Friday, March 18, 2005

What's so bad about steroids?

The House Committee on Government Reform apparently thinks that steroid use in professional sports is unethical, at least enough to call a hearing on the matter yesterday. Why? What is unethical about a paid athlete wanting to perform at his absolute peak? I'd say it's more like a sacrifice of one's body for his fans and employers. One House member intoned that "steroid use is a crime." It's obviously not, per se. Not that we could expect much better from the used car salesmen who seem to make up the lower body of Congress.

The risks associated with steroid use are well known by now, as is modern medicine's ability to control dosages and combat side effects. If an athlete wants to enhance his performance knowing full well he could be risking:

- Impotence, baldness and breast development in men
- Masculinization of the body in women
- Acne and cysts
- Heart attacks and stroke
- Liver cancer
- Mood changes, irritability, and aggression

among several other recognized side effects, such as suicide, why not? I won't even go into the obvious fact that most of the aforementioned side effects are at best anecdotal. An athlete pretty much becomes a hero in my book if he's willing to take any kind of risk with his body for my entertainment, and presumably his multimillion-dollar earning potential. Those side effects aren't anything I'd want to risk being afflicted with, especially because I view sports as a fun way to keep my body and mind productive and resilient. But professional sports? Isn't that a different matter?

Don't scholars and yuppies take amphetamines and anti-depressants as performance-enhancers? Don't professional musicians use the beta-blocker Inderal? These are all prescription drugs being taken for off-label purposes. What about the odd teenage girl risking auto-immune disorders and cancers by having silicone-filled sacs surgically implanted in her chest? Heart attacks? Breast cancer? Let's not even get into Viagra or the Pill.

One difference in the case of steroids, it seems to me, is that their use hits a nerve with our society's naive need for hero worship. Professional athletes are gods and we pay them accordingly, and gods should not need enhancement, even if the drugs in question are legal and FDA-approved. (Every time an anabolic steroid is added to the list of Schedule III controlled substances, another two compounds, or techniques, are invented to replace it.)

Speaking of naive hero worship, what about adolescents using steroids? Isn't it strange that even with a study that seems to bolster the case for increased suicide in a "subset" of adolescents on Prozac, the National Institute for Mental Health guides doctors and families to make their own decisions, and basically continues to encourage the use of the drug. From the NIMH web site:

"In the recently completed Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study (TADS) funded by NIMH, suicidal thinking generally decreased during treatment with fluoxetine [Prozac], but 15 of the 216 youths on fluoxetine (6.94 percent) had a suicide-related event, such as a suicidal attempt or threats, as compared with 9 of the 223 on the inert placebo pill (4.04 percent)."

That's an INCREASE in suicidal tendencies on Prozac in the study. Again, from the NIMH web site:

"Fluoxetine leads to significant improvement of depression overall. The drug, however, may increase the risk for suicidal behaviors in a small subset of adolescents. As with all medical decisions, doctors and families have to weigh risks and benefits of treatment for each individual patient."

More pressure on doctors to prescribe anti-depressants translates to more profit for the pharmaceutical companies. NIH obviously wouldn't give the same advice for kids (and their twisted parents) wanting a better chance at kicking rival-team-ass. So, steroids become evil in the eyes of Congress, even though they're far less risky than alcohol for instance. It's simple: steroids are cheap and readily available. The drug companies hold no patents on them. There is absolutely no way that congressional hearings would be called on this matter if steroids were proprietary drugs.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Humans need entertainment. It's our new opiate (sorry Mr. Marx). For many people sports like football are more than games. Even for fans it can be a lifestyle and if that's what gets them through the day then more power to them. And when someone achieves things that did not come naturally it makes the game that much less real.

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