The supplement industry, sporting groups, the FDA and more have been combating the issue of prohormones, or steroid precursors, for years. Prior to 2004 these substances were available at practically all retailers. They were available in many forms and made by many different manufacturers. This grew to be quite a concern and forced additional regulatory action to be taken.
In 2004, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act was passed, which added many prohormones to the list of controlled substances illegal for sale in the dietary supplement industry. The language included in the act stated, “The term ‘anabolic steroid’ means any drug or hormonal substance, chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than estrogens, progestins, corticosteroids, and dehydroepiandrosterone).” It goes on to name more than 43 drugs by name that were now controlled and illegal to put in dietary supplements.
Enacting new regulations is one thing but enforcing them is a different story. Even after the act passed in 2004, prohormones remained widely available for years to come. These products continued to have controlled substances boldly listed on the label. These were things like Superdrol, Halodrol 50, Madol, Turinabol, Androstenedione and more.
At Anti-Doping Research, we helped expose the sales of several designer steroids in a story for ESPN.com in September of 2007, http://www.shaunassael.com/pdf/made-in-china.pdf. Again, in March of 2009, we worked on a two-part story for CBS that exposed a new designer steroid, ‘Tren’, that was being unknowingly used by high school athletes, http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/03/18/earlyshow/health/main4874182.shtml. These examples demonstrate the harsh reality that despite the new legislation, the pipeline of designer steroids and prohormones was still healthy long after 2004.
In late 2009, the FDA finally began to get more assertive in their attempts to curtail the sales of these products. They approached one of the largest retailers of supplement products, Bodybuilding.com, and informed the company that they were selling 65 products that were currently classified as steroids. This resulted in a voluntary recall of the products http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/ArchiveRecalls/2009/ucm188929.htm.
You might think that his was the beginning of the end for these products, but a quick Internet search today demonstrates that this is not the case. Amazon.com, in fact, is still selling several of the products that were part of the Bodybuilding.com recall, http://www.amazon.com/Competitive-Edge-Labs-CEL-tren/dp/B002W2X8BM/ref=pd_sim_hpc_6. A quick glance at the bottom of the page shows that more like M-Drol and H-Drol are also for sale. The problem doesn’t stop with Amazon. Nutrition Arsenal is also selling Competitive Edge Labs M-Drol and H-drol today, with a note that the manufacturer has discontinued the product and supplies are very limited, http://www.nutritionarsenal.com/Search.aspx. There are 84 products available on this site listed as prohormones. Another site where prohormones are widely and publicly available is BuySupps.com. They only have six prohormones listed, one CEL’s H-drol is at least no longer available. The five other products, however, are marketed as new clones of old favorites like Halodrol, Superdrol, Tren, and more.
More time spent searching the Internet will find more of the same issues. Certainly, the efforts of the FDA to curtail the sales of these products at major retailers should be applauded and the voluntary response by the retailer to recall products is commendable. That several of these products are still available at a retailer like Amazon.com, however, demonstrates that huge holes remain. Why is it not possible to stem the sales of these products at all retailers? If it is a resource issue then hopefully the resources can be found to address this concern. If not, then we must continue the process of clearing these products from the marketplace completely.
Unfortunately, it is not only products labeled with prohormones or steroids that cause problems. At Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG), we test products on behalf of manufacturers for banned substances to assure that they are not contaminated. The products we test do not have any banned ingredients on the labels but at times we do find contamination of these products. Even manufacturers that try to make products responsibly fall victim to raw material contamination that leads to finished product contamination. There is no requirement to test raw materials for banned substances so it is not surprising that this occurs. The reality is that prohormones and steroids continue to be present as contaminants in supplement products and this too must be addressed and curtailed.
We will continue to work on such pressing supplement issues. They are not only important to elite athletes and professionals such as police and fire people, but also to the general public who use these products widely and with more and more frequency.