Legal aspects of Black Market AAS
Legal aspects of Black Market AAS
BY RICK COLLINS, J.D.* CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER AND AUTHOR OF Legal Muscle Copyright © 1999-2003 by Rick Collins. All rights reserved.
As adult men age, their bodies gradually produce less testosterone - the male sex hormone that is both anabolic (i.e., builds muscle) and androgenic (i.e., promotes male characteristics). Many men approaching middle age - and sometimes earlier - begin to experience the negative effects of this natural decline. Doctors practicing in the developing area called "anti-aging medicine" have found that replacing the body's own testosterone with testosterone or other chemically similar androgens from an outside source can enhance muscular size and strength, and can help improve virility and vitality in aging men. These replacement hormones, however, are prescription medications - i.e., they are unlawful to purchase or possess without a valid prescription from a physician. Further, most androgens - which include the synthetic variations defined as "anabolic steroids" - have been classified as controlled substances, invoking the imposition of criminal penalties for those who buy them on the black market and are caught possessing them without a prescription. This article explores some of the legalities involved in the illegal purchase and possession of replacement androgens. For those seeking a basic understanding of androgens and an evaluation of their health risks when used without medical advice, please refer to the applicable sections of my website at www.steroidlaw.com. For those seeking more information about my law firm and its services, please visit us at www.cmgesq.com.
A Brief Overview of Physician-Prescribed Androgen Replacement Therapy
While androgens cannot be lawfully prescribed to healthy men solely for bodybuilding purposes, it is increasingly common for physicians practicing in the developing area called "anti-aging medicine" to prescribe androgens and growth hormone in order to counter age-related declines in natural hormone levels. Declining blood testosterone levels can result in diminished libido (sex drive) and decreased sexual functioning, as well as loss of muscle size and strength. Androgen replacement therapy works by administering exogenous hormones to raise blood androgen levels back up to optimal levels. There are several choices for administering the hormones including intramuscular injections, oral tablets, transdermal creams and gels, and skin patches. Not all men are suitable candidates for androgen replacement therapy, and proper medical screening and diagnosis, including blood testing and symptom and medical history review, is absolutely essential. Legislation of
Anabolic Steroids as Controlled Substances
Most androgens used for anti-aging replacement are the synthetic variations of testosterone known as anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids were at one time prescription medications but were not designated as controlled substances. But in the late 1980s, media reports about the growing use of anabolic steroids in sports, particularly at the Olympic and high school levels, caught the attention of the U.S. Congress. Congressional hearings were held to determine whether the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to specifically include anabolic steroids along with the more serious drugs like cocaine and heroin. It is highly significant that the majority of witnesses who testified, including medical professionals and representatives of regulatory agencies (including the FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA], the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and even the American Medical Association) recommended against the proposition. Nevertheless, the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 was signed into law by President Bush. The Act applies in every federal court across the nation, placing steroids in the same legal category as barbiturates, ketamine, LSD precursors, and narcotic painkillers like Vicodin. It renders simple possession of anabolic steroids without a prescription a federal offense. At the individual state level, each jurisdiction is authorized to enact its own laws pertaining to anabolic steroids, and many have imposed strict controls over steroids similar to the federal law.
The Risks of Obtaining Anabolic Steroids without a Prescription
Some men seeking the reported anti-aging benefits of androgen replacement therapy are attempting to obtain these medicines without a prescription. In certain cases, these individuals have already been rejected as candidates by anti-aging physicians. In other cases, there are no efforts at all to obtain the medications legitimately. But for whatever reasons, these individuals are turning to the $400 million a year anabolic steroid black market as a source. The medical risks associated with purchasing anabolic steroids via the black market - for example, it's been estimated by some that up to 90% of black market anabolic steroids are contaminated or contain other foreign substances -- have been long recognized (see www.steroidlaw.com for further details). But given the current federal and state laws, the legal risks are just as significant. Buying androgens on the black market in the "traditional" fashion from the local gym dealer is risky business indeed, and not just for health risk reasons. There are countless ways by which one can get caught in possession of these controlled substances. If the steroids are purchased locally and then driven back by car to the buyer's home, any contact with law enforcement authorities while en route can yield unfortunate results for the buyer. A traffic law violation or an auto accident can lead to a vehicle search by the police. While the odds may favor an uneventful trip home, ironic twists of fate have prompted many to lament, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all." A lesson in how an arrest can arise out of unrelated circumstances appeared in very recent headlines. A former professional bodybuilder was charged with possessing anabolic steroids with the intent to distribute them. The steroids were alleged to have been found inside his home. According to prosecution officials, the man was a suspect in illegal credit card activities completely unrelated to anabolic steroids. It was during a search of his trash container for proof of these credit card crimes that alleged evidence of steroid usage was accidentally uncovered, ultimately leading to his arrest. (Secondary lesson: never put anything in the trash that you wouldn't want the Government to find.) Buying steroids over the Internet black market from one of the many illegal overseas sources is the fastest-growing way people are getting busted for steroids. Importing controlled substances is a federal crime. The U.S. Customs Mail Division, which oversees international packages, is authorized to open and inspect suspicious parcels. Packages can arouse suspicion based upon factors such as look, feel, origin or destination. The Government maintains a computerized data system including addresses known to be connected with steroids based upon prior shipment seizures, and it will intercept parcels bearing these origin or destination addresses. If the federal authorities discover a package containing steroids, they will hold or "seize" the package. They can then either send a "seizure letter" or attempt a "controlled delivery." The seizure letter offers the designated recipient the chance to challenge the seizure (and potentially invite an arrest). Even if the designated recipient doesn't respond, the addresses of origin and destination and designated recipient's name will be recorded for future reference. The controlled delivery option involves the attempted delivery of the parcel by an undercover federal agent posing as a courier or letter carrier, accompanied by a hidden back-up team. If the package is accepted, the team will move in to arrest the recipient, question him, search his home and car, etc. The Government has become quite interested in the explosion of illegal pharmaceutical sources on the Internet. The DEA has assigned numerous employees to research the problem and design comprehensive enforcement policies and protocols. However, effective actions against illegal suppliers are hampered by a variety of factors, one of which is that these suppliers, who often operate through discussion boards, anonymous email addresses and evaporating websites, are very hard to locate and identify. Further, the practical and jurisdictional problems in trying to investigate and prosecute overseas entities can be nearly impossible to overcome. Consequently, the Government is exploring alternative methods of combating the situation. One approach is to discourage demand, rather than supply, by targeting the consumer instead of the supplier. For example, my firm recently represented a woman (with no previous criminal record) who ordered the controlled substance Valium from what appeared to be one of these foreign websites. While she had no prescription, she in fact did have a legitimate medical need for the medication, and an American doctor had previously prescribed it for her. When she accepted the delivery of the package, she was arrested and charged in state court with criminal possession of a controlled substance. The website was actually a reverse sting operation orchestrated by the Government, which arranged the controlled delivery of the parcel. It is unlikely that this woman will be the last victim of these Government tactics.
The Consequences of Getting Caught with Anabolic Steroids without a Prescription
Anyone caught with anabolic steroids in the absence of a physician's prescription authorizing possession is subject to arrest and prosecution under state and federal criminal laws. Of course, a criminal defendant is innocent until proven guilty, and every arrest does not result in a conviction. But just the mere experience of being arrested - the indignity of being handcuffed, fingerprinted, and arraigned before a criminal court judge in open court - is exceedingly unpleasant and embarrassing, especially in a small town or in a publicized case. And if the arrest results in a criminal conviction, the likelihood of jail time or supervised probation depends upon the background of the accused, the forum in which the case is brought, the quantity of steroids involved, and numerous other factors. If the prosecution is brought in any U.S. Federal court, a first-time offender convicted of simple possession of anabolic steroids is subject to up to one year in prison and/or a minimum fine of $1,000. Second offenders must get imprisonment of at least 15 days and up to two years, and a minimum fine of $2,500. (Penalties for trafficking or possessing with the intent to distribute are more severe.) In the individual state courts, penalties vary. Currently in New York, for example, simple possession of an anabolic steroid is subject to prosecution as a misdemeanor criminal offense and is punishable by up to one year in jail. Further, jail time is not the only potential adverse consequence of possessing steroids without a prescription. The effect of a drug conviction (such as possession of steroids) may prevent or interfere with future employment opportunities in many fields, including but not limited to law enforcement. Other effects can include mandatory driver's license suspension (a personal nightmare for those who live in rural and suburban areas) and ineligibility to own or possess a firearm in many states. Members of certain professions requiring licensing (architects, auctioneers, barbers, cosmetologists, dentists, lawyers, licensed counselors, nurses, pharmacists, physicians, public accountants, and teachers, just to name a few) can expect a conviction to be reported to their state licensing authority, placing their current job or career in jeopardy. Lastly, for those who are not American citizens, the immigration problems and the possibility of deportation can arise.
American men interested in the reported benefits of androgen replacement therapy must be aware of the serious legal risks of obtaining these medications through black market sources. These medicines are classified as controlled substances, and possessing them in the absence of a physician's prescription can have dire legal consequences. For the many men who are legitimate candidates for this therapy, consultation with a qualified physician and the dispensation of a valid prescription are absolutely essential.
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