FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 18, 2007
Schumer, Grassley Push Proposals To Curb Abuse Of Performance-Enhancing Drugs
Despite Steroids Appearing on the List of Controlled Substances Since 1990, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) Remains Unlisted and Largely Unregulated
Mitchell Report Shows HGH Is Being Abused as Much if Not More than Anabolic Steroids—More Than Half of the Athletes Named Accused of Using HGH
Washington, DC—Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced a set of proposals that would cut access to performance-enhancing drugs and attach stiffer criminal penalties to their improper use and distribution. The senators urged Congress to act on the proposals as soon as possible in the wake of last week’s bombshell, independent report by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell on the widespread abuse of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs by Major League Baseball athletes.
“The real tragedy of the Mitchell Report is that it shows how easy it is to beat the system,” Schumer said. “The majority of players named in the report are accused of taking human growth hormone, a drug for which there is currently no reliable test. We have to do everything we can to keep dangerous substances out of young hands. Together, these two bills are a big step in that direction.”
“These bills are a good step at getting at some of the issues we are seeing as athletes of all ages use performance enhancing drugs,” Grassley said. “I’m hopeful that the sports industry will heed the wake up call and do something to deal with this problem. Professional sports figures need to realize that they are role models. It's time they shape up—without the drugs.”
Currently, human growth hormone (HGH) is not a controlled substance. Although it is regulated by other laws, it is not currently illegal to possess HGH, nor is its manufacturing process as closely regulated as that of anabolic steroids. Schumer’s proposal (S.877) would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to add HGH as a Schedule III substance, thus equating it with anabolic steroids in the eyes of the law. The CSA sets forth certain criteria—such as whether or not the drug in question has any medical purpose, how addictive it might be, and what kind of side effects it might have—in deciding how to categorize it.
In 1990, the Controlled Substances Act was amended to include anabolic and androgenic steroids as a Schedule III substance. At the time, a number of substances were added to the list. However, the rapid evolution of performance-enhancing drugs has made it difficult for law enforcement to keep up. Following baseball star Mark McGwire’s admission that he had taken androstenedione, Congress amended the CSA once against to include that particular steroid hormone in 2004.
The Controlled Substances Act requires all legitimate manufacturers, distributors and dispensers of any controlled substance to register with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA.) Manufacturers must keep data on production and disposal of their substances, including information on both sales and destruction. This creates a “closed” system, making it easier for DEA and law enforcement to identify a controlled substance that has been acquired on the black market or produced by a rogue source.
When a substance is added to the list, all distributors and dispensers along the distribution chain who deal with the substance—including wholesale distributors, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and certain retail stores—are required to register with the DEA. Even with drugs requiring a prescription, this is not the case unless a drug is considered to be a controlled substance. It also means that anyone along the production chain can be prosecuted for a violation of the Controlled Substances Act—for example, a manufacturer who is not registered, or a pharmacist who knowingly fills a faulty prescription.
“Even though HGH has a few health benefits and you still need a prescription to get it, it’s largely unregulated,” Schumer said. “Almost anyone can get it off the Internet and we can’t really track down where it’s being made or is going. HGH needs to be placed where it belongs—on the controlled substances list with all the other performance-enhancing drugs like it.”
Currently, simple possession of HGH is not a criminal offense. However, inclusion of HGH in the list of controlled substances would mean that if a person possesses HGH without a current, valid prescription, he or she could be prosecuted for possession of a controlled substance. Penalties for possession could be as high as three years imprisonment, depending on the circumstances of the case.
HGH is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the pituitary gland. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved use of HGH for medical purposes such as dwarfism, but not for cosmetic or anti-aging purposes. Like steroids, HGH can reduce fat and help to build lean muscle, creating an athletic build. Because it helps with bone growth and tissue repair, many athletes have turned to it when recovering from an injury.
Senator Grassley’s proposal (S.2470) addresses the growing prevalence of another substance that is being used for its performance-enhancing properties, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA.) DHEA is a naturally-occurring precursor to testosterone, and a dietary supplement that some athletes are turning to as an alternative to illegal anabolic steroids. Although many people use DHEA as an “anti-aging” supplement, it is being marketed online to young athletes as a good way to increase muscle mass. When taken in high doses over time, DHEA, like its other relatives in the steroid family, may cause liver damage and cancer. S.2470 will address this issue by making it illegal to sell DHEA without a prescription to anyone under the age of 18.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 10% of high school athletes have experimented with or are regular users of anabolic steroids. It is assumed that HGH is being abused at the same if not higher levels, in part because there is no test to detect it. Performance-enhancing drugs are particularly dangerous for adolescents, because they are still growing and because of the dangerous side effects such as depression, addiction to other substances, and other physical problems. Performance-enhancing drugs have been linked to cancer, impotence, heart muscle deterioration and arthritis.
Senator Schumer first introduced the HGH legislation last March, when Albany County District Attorney David Soares uncovered a multi-state HGH ring. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the independent anti-doping agency for Olympic-related sports in the United States, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free America have endorsed the bill.