The supplement industry, sports groups, the FDA, and many others have been battling the problem of prohormones or steroid precursors for years. Until 2004, these substances were available in almost all retail chains. They were available in many forms and made by many different manufacturers. This has become a major concern and prompted additional regulatory measures.
In 2004, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act was passed, which added many prohormones to the list of controlled substances prohibited from sale in the nutritional supplement industry. The wording included in the law reads: “The term ‘anabolic steroid’ means any drug or hormonal substance chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than estrogens, progestins, corticosteroids and dehydroepiandrosterone).” More than 43 drugs are listed below that are currently controlled and illegally incorporated into dietary supplements.
Adopting new rules is one thing, but following them is another story. Even after the law was passed in 2004, prohormones remained widely available for many years. These products continued to contain controlled substances boldly listed on the label. These were such things as Superdrol, Chalodrol 50, Madol, Turinabol, Androstenedione and others.
At Anti-Doping Research, we helped uncover sales of several designer steroids in history in September 2007. Again, in March 2009, we were working on a two-part storyline for CBS that featured a new designer steroid, Tren, that was unknowingly used by high school athletes. These examples demonstrate the harsh reality that, despite new legislation, the pipeline of designer steroids and prohormones has remained healthy even after 2004.
In late 2009, the FDA finally became more aggressive in its efforts to cut sales of these products. They reached out to one of the largest nutritional supplement retailers and told the company that they sell 65 products that are currently classified as steroids. This resulted in a voluntary recall of products.
The more time you spend searching the Internet, the more problems. Of course, the FDA’s efforts to reduce sales of these products in large retail stores are to be applauded, and the retailer’s voluntary response to product recalls is commendable. However, the fact that some of these products are still available in retail shows that huge holes remain. Why is it not possible to stop selling these products at all retailers? If this is a resource issue, then hopefully resources can be found to address the issue. If not, then we must continue with the process of completely removing these products from the market.
Unfortunately, it’s not just products labeled with prohormones or steroids that cause problems. At the Prohibited Substances Control Group (BSCG), we screen products for prohibited substances on behalf of manufacturers to ensure they are not contaminated. The products we test do not have prohibited ingredients on the labels, but sometimes we find contamination of these products. Even manufacturers who try to make products responsibly fall victim to contamination of raw materials, which leads to contamination of finished products. There is no need to test raw materials for banned substances, so it should come as no surprise that this happens. The reality is that prohormones and steroids are still present as contaminants in dietary supplements and that too needs to be addressed and reduced.
We will continue to work on such topical additions. They are important not only for elite athletes and professionals such as police and firefighters, but also for the general public, who uses these products widely and more and more often.