An increase in men using steroids in a bid to get the perfect body is creating a “time bomb” for the NHS, an expert has warned.
A needle exchange for steroid users has been opened in Newport after a clinic saw an increase in their use.
One user, in his twenties, said he was using them to get his dream summer body – and the health risks were worth it.
Mike Mallett, who set-up the clinic, fears it will lead to a boom in men with health issues.
“My worry is that in 20 years time, maybe less, GPs will see an increase in the number of 40 and 50-year-old guys, with a 20-year history of using steroids, with liver, thyroid, and kidney problems, or heart conditions,” he said.
“But they won’t approach their GP until they’re symptomatic, by then the treatment is going to be much more expensive and much less likely to be effective.”
Needle exchanges – where users can get clean needles and safe injection advice – are more traditionally associated with drug addicts like heroin users.
The clinic in Newport, which opened last year and is the first of its kind in Wales, is only for steroid users and offers blood tests and other tests to check users’ health.
It was opened after Gwent Substance Misuse Service saw a marked increase in the number of people using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs using its services.
Anabolic steroids are a Class C drug, and though it is illegal to sell or manufacture them, personal use is legal.
One user, in his twenties, started using steroids about two months ago alongside visiting the gym and dieting in a bid to get the “summer body” he wants.
He buys them online and said he had gone to the clinic to get his blood and organ functions checked as he was nearing the end of a cycle.
While he was aware of well-publicised cases of people dying from using the drug, he said it was worth the risk.
“Everybody knows steroids exist, but I’ve always been in and out of gym on and off since I was 17, but only in last two years I’ve changed my life around the gym, dieting, focusing on the gym, that’s my lifestyle kind of thing,” he said.
“It’s only recently I’ve thought about using these enhancers to get me to where I want to be by summer.”
He added: “It’s always a concern, you’d have to be stupid not to think ‘what is this doing to my body?’, like I’ve come today to have my blood test.
“As long as you keep an eye on your health at regular intervals. If everything comes back fine, then you know you’re fine. If it doesn’t come back fine and you don’t stop, that’s your own fault.”
Public Health Wales (PHW) said, while the drugs sold online could look official, tests of image and performance enhancing drugs (Ipeds) had shown about a third did not contain what they claimed, while some had no active ingredient at all.
Josie Smith, of PHW, said it was a challenge to get the message across about the health implications of using Ipeds, when users were seeing the results they wanted.
“We have to recognise that if an individual is seeing results, that can perpetuate use,” she said, adding that a stigma also meant that many users were often reluctant to seek help.
“When an individual feels better, they look better, they feel more confident – that’s quite challenging to address,” she said.
“We need to upskill health professionals and we need to make sure that we have credible sources of information and advice – and non-stigmatising health care,” she added.