Load up on your Mag-10 now. It looks like the life of prohormones is very short indeed.
Mark McGwire’s little home run pill is about to be pulled off the shelves.
That’s the intent of a new bill sponsored by influential senators on both sides of the aisle, who introduced legislation late Thursday night that would prevent the over-the-counter sale of androstenedione and its muscle-building chemical cousins. The bill would also ban THG, the substance at the center of a growing scandal involving several elite athletes.
“These substances, called steroid precursors or pro-steroids, are one step removed from the substances (regulated) in the law,” Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, said on the Senate floor. "When ingested, they metabolize into testosterone or other illicit steroids. These are products which the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the group in charge of testing Olympic athletes for performance enhancing drugs, has called the ‘functional equivalent of steroids.’ "
Biden was the driving force behind the effort in 1990 that led to anabolic steroids being made controlled substances. The new bill, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2003, serves as acknowledgement that there were flaws in that original legislation, which discouraged doctors from prescribing steroids to athletes but stimulated the black market and encouraged scientists to devise powerful substances that were technically legal.
THG, a designer steroid undetectable by drug tests and kept secret until recently, is one of those substances. Although not generally sold in health stores – like andro is – the substance had the potential to become available over the counter once it became better known.
The bill is co-sponsored by Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, whose support is considered critical to the bill’s passage, Senate staffers familiar with the legislation told ESPN.com. Hatch was a leader in a successful 1994 effort to deregulate the nutritional supplement industry, which has spawned many of the ethically suspect products used by athletes in recent years. Over the years, he has remained a protector of the industry and calls have increased for greater government oversight of products such as andro.
The bill would not ban many of the more popular substances, such as ephedra and creatine, used by athletes to enhance performance.
A similar bill was introduced in January to the House of Representatives by, among others, Tom Osborne, R-Neb., formerly football coach at the University of Nebraska. The Senate effort gives that bill renewed viability.
Andro, which is banned in the NFL and other sports but not in baseball, was used by McGwire during the 1998 season when he hit 70 home runs, breaking the single-season record owned by Roger Maris. Andro sales quadrupled after his admission, with teenagers making up many of those consumers.
At the time, McGwire dismissed public concerns about his use of andro, and discounted comparisons to anabolic steroids, because the pills were available over the counter.
Major League Baseball was one of the 34 organizations listed as supporting the bill, which is endorsed by a wide range of medical, athletic and drug policy groups. Several groups are from the nutritional supplement industry.
Andro increases both testosterone and estrogen levels in the body. Biden cited a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluding that “orally administered androstenedione increases testosterone and estrogen levels in healthy men, particularly at higher doses.” The study also notes that long-term administration could be hazardous, particularly in women and children.
“To be honest, I would be less concerned about what professional athletes are doing to their bodies if their actions did not have such a profound effect on kids,” Biden said.
If the bill passes, people who want to use andro or its chemical cousins would have to get a prescription from a doctor. Biden said the bill would also make it easier for the Drug Enforcement Administration to add new substances to the controlled substances list.
Government agencies have been largely impotent in dealing with the steroids issue. As ESPN.com previously showed in an investigative report on the steroids trade, even those trafficking in the hard stuff – anabolic steroids – face few consequences. Stopping the flow of steroids from Mexico is a low priority for border guards, and steroids dealers in the U.S. rarely get any prison time.
Currently, the maximum sentence for offenses involving anabolic steroids is only 33 to 41 months for first-time offenders, and to receive the maximum sentence an offender would have to be caught with 300,000 doses.
The Biden-Hatch bill directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to review the federal sentencing guidelines for crimes involving anabolic steroids, and consider raising them.
Biden and Hatch are scheduled to speak at a hearing Tuesday that has been called by Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who has introduced a separate bill that calls for more research into performance-enhancing drugs used by athletes