by Josh Hodnik
Looking back, its easy to see that the steroid culture has changed in many ways. My first personal interaction with anabolic steroids was in a gym in the mid 90’s. This particular gym was a small, locally owned place that catered mostly to hardcore bodybuilders and power lifters. Unlike most corporate gyms today, the music was played too loud, and you were an outcast if you didn’t deadlift and squat. After workouts, members would gather around the front desk, which also served the purpose of a smoothie bar. The stools around the bar were often filled with bodybuilders that were drinking high calorie weight gainer shakes, which were common at the time. The topic of discussion was usually anabolic steroids. During this time, information about steroids couldn’t be found on the Internet. People learned about these drugs through the few books available, a few bodybuilding magazines, and word of mouth.
Dan Duchaine and Mike Zumpano compiled information about every anabolic steroid available in the 80’s, and they published the Underground Steroid Handbook. An ad for the book was posted in the back of several bodybuilding magazines, and orders started pouring in. This book was the first of its kind at the time. Finally, something beyond medical literature was available to provide insight on bodybuilding drugs. Before this book existed, the average steroid user didn’t use an anti-estrogen such as Nolvadex. Most bodybuilders really had no clue what anti-estrogens were. The Underground Steroid Handbook would bring these drugs among several others, such as HGH, Cytadren, and diuretics to light. Mike Zumpano would take his profits from the book and he went on to start Champion Nutrition. Duchaine would continue to research bodybuilding drugs, and he would become known as the “Steroid Guru”.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the sport of bodybuilding was much less mainstream than it is today. Popular bodybuilding magazines would have a column or two dedicated to steroids and other bodybuilding drugs. The magazine, Muscle Media 2000, started as a hardcore bodybuilding magazine. Its contents consisted of articles written mainly about steroids, training, and maybe a few supplement ads. Dan Duchaine contributed a good deal of content for this magazine while in federal prison. Duchaine served prison time for steroid distribution and GHB. Bill Phillips, the founder of EAS, published Muscle Media 2000. he would make a smart business move with the magazine and EAS by dropping the steroid content and going mainstream. From its start until the end, Muscle Media 2000 was the publication bodybuilders relied on to learn about anabolic steroids.
Prior to the new millennium, steroids for sale over the Internet was rare. Steroid dealers weren’t found online, instead, they were found in the gym. These steroid peddlers usually had a limited variety of steroids for sale. It usually consisted of a Mexican testosterone, nandrolone, Reforvit-B (injectable Dianabol), and maybe some Winstrol or Equipose if you were lucky. Most anabolic steroids in the 90’s originated in Mexico under the brands Brovel and Tornel. European steroids could occassionally be found at this time, but it came with a much higher price tag. HGH was extremely rare, and when it could be found, it would cost up to a few thousand dollars for a month supply. Trenbolone was tough to find in injectable form during this time. However, cattle implant cartridges that contained trenbolone called Finaplix could be purchased by anyone at a feed store. A cartridge of Finaplix contained 2,000mg of trenbolone acetate in the form of pellets that were intended to be implanted into the back of the ear of cattle to increase weight. Steroid users would crush the pellets into powder. The powder would be mixed with liquid DMSO and then rubbed onto the skin. DMSO acted as a carrier. It would allow the trenbolone to absorb through the skin and enter the bloodstream. DMSO has a strong, distinct odor. It could be smelled several feet away from someone at the gym, making it obvious if they were using DMSO. This problem would come to an end in the late 90’s when kits became available that made it possible to convert Fianplix pellets into an injectable form. These kits became commonly known as “Fina Kits”. One would purchase a Finaplix cartridge, a Fina Kit, and put together roughly 20 milliliters of trenbolone acetate for under 70 bucks. Finaplix cartridges are more regulated now, and the cost for these implants have skyrocketed. Because of this, making your own trenbolone acetate today from Finaplix pellets has become pointless.
Online bodybuilding and steroid forum gained in popularity in the early 2000’s. This became the place that steroid dealers from the United States and other parts of the world would push their products. Selling on the Internet became enticing to dealers that were accustomed to selling at the gym or who were limited to a certain geographical location. The online steroid business became attractive to suppliers for several reasons. Suppliers that sold on the street had to show their face, and the Internet would allow suppliers from other parts of the world to easily reach the country with the largest anabolic steroid client base, the United States. The Internet also allowed people to purchase steroids who may not have had access to a local steroid supplier. When anabolic steroids were primarily sold in gyms, it wasn’t always easy to get acquainted with a supplier unless you were already part of a group that used steroids. The Internet changed all of this, and everyone with a computer and an Internet connection would be able to send money to an online steroid dealer and have the drugs shipped directly to their mailbox.
Ordering steroids on the Internet would give American bodybuilders a broader access to European steroids, which were more scarce in the past. The price of European gear would rop dramatically. The majority of European gear available was pharmaceutical grade, while the steroids originating from Mexico were commonly veterinary grade. European steroids would become a prime choice because of this.
Steroid cycles were fairly basic throughout the 90’s and early 2000’s. The most common steroids used were testosterone, nandrolone, Dianabol, boldenone, and Winstrol. During this time, Mexican thyroid drugs and Clenbuterol could easily be found for very cheap, and insulin was also easy to purchase in pharmacies without a prescription. Because of this, these drugs were commonly used by bodybuilders during this time.
The increase in online bodybuilding forums gave easier access to European steroids for Americans. Not only did this give Americans access to higher quality anabolic steroids when compared to Mexican steroids at the time, it provided access to steroids that weren’t readily available in Mexico. Drugs such as Masteron, Trenbolone, and injectable Winstrol would quickly become staples to most steroid cycles.
Mexican steroid suppliers knew they would have to make some changes to compete with the steroids coming out of Europe. Quality Vet, Denkall, and several others based in Mexico began to offer the same steroids coming out of Europe, but at cheaper prices and higher doses. This move in the early 2000’s would put Mexico back in front as the leader in supplying anabolic steroids to the United States. Mexican steroids coming into the US would come to a screeching halt in late 2005, when almost every major Mexican lab that produced anabolic steroids were raided and shutdown by the United States DEA. It was estimated at the time that Mexican steroids account for 80 percent of all steroids sold in the U.S. This move by the U.S. government would change the steroid industry forever.
At one time, Mexico was the largest supplier of anabolic steroids to the U.S. At the same time, China was the leading supplier of steroid raw materials to the entire world. Mexican steroid labs shutdown by the DEA in 2005 received most of their raw materials from Chinese factories. In a way, The DEA simply cut out a middle man in the steroid business. It wouldn’t take long before others stepped in to fill this middle man position.
Anabolic steroids aren’t regulated the same way in Mexico as they are in the United States. It isn’t as relaxed as it used to be, but steroids can be purchased without a prescription at a Mexican pharmacy if a person knows the right place to go. Due to the relaxed stand on steroids in Mexico, Chinese raw material producers never feared any legal repercussions for supplying ingredients to Mexican labs. When production of most anabolic steroids in Mexico came to a stop, Chinese factories felt a large financial void.
A few underground steroid labs were already in business in the U.S. around the time the DEA took control of Mexican steroid production. The shortage of steroids during this time opened the door for more labs to surface in side American borders. Law enforcement’s move in Mexico pushed the hand of steroid dealers to manufacture or hire someone to produce the steroids for them. This would require steroid powders to be imported to the U.S. from China. Employees at Chinese factories knew there could be consequences for supplying Americans with raw materials needed to illegally produce a Schedule III drug. Middlemen calling themselves brokers would work in between the steroid factories in China and American buyers. Managers of these factories would attempt to limit legal liability by selling to certain brokers, who then sold to American producers.
The number of bodybuilding forums that anabolic steroids could be bought and sold on soared in the mid-2000’s. After 2005, Mexican steroids became a thing of the past, while steroids produced in underground labs in the U.S. were on the rise. Steroid dealers that once relied on Mexican steroids to make a living, found themselves in a more favorable position financially when operating an underground lab. When buying in bulk from Mexico, a dealer may be paying 10-15 dollars for a vial of testosterone. This same bottle of testosterone would cost around 3 bucks when produced in an underground lab. This is a significant difference in cost and profit margin. The amount of steroids that could be smuggled into the U.S. from Mexico was somewhat limited. Finished product in vials and tablet form takes up a lot of space. There are only so many places steroids can be concealed when they are walked, driven, or mailed across the Mexican border. Having raw materials imported from China and producing the steroids on the U.S. side took away much of the limitations on how much could be smuggled into the country. To put things into perspective, a small box that 50-100 vials could fit in from Mexico could hold enough raw materials to produce several thousand vials.
The emergence of underground labs would result in drastic changes in prices. Online suppliers would compete with each other to bring in a larger customer base by lowering cost. For example, prior to the DEA Mexican lab busts, a 10ml bottle of nandrolone would retail for around 80 dollars. This price would almost drop in half once underground labs came about. The quality with underground lab produced steroids was hit or miss. When steroids are cooked in someone’s kitchen or spare bedroom, there is a lack of quality control. San Rafael Chemical Services would allow anabolic steroid samples to mailed in and tested for a fee. Lab test results were often posted on forums. This would show the active ingredient and dosage of the sample tested. However, it didn’t indicate the level of bacteria or heavy metals present.
In late 2008, the DEA would step in again to wage a war on anabolic steroids. An investigation labeled Operation Raw Deal would result in over 120 arrests and over 50 underground labs being raided over a three day period. The investigation would result in arrests of several individuals in China that were responsible for sending steroid powders to the U.S. For a short time, it appeared that underground steroids were going to be a thing of the past. Operation Raw Deal resulted in the arrest and conviction of many people involved in the steroid business across the country. Several Chinese factories that manufactured steroid powders were either shutdown or voluntarily stopped production of steroids. The demand for anabolic steroids was not impacted by Operation Raw Deal. Chinese factories regrouped, and other underground labs have since formed to fill the demand.
Today, the anabolic steroid business is much different than it was two decades ago. What once was a class of drugs taken by a select number of bodybuilders and power lifters, are now used by doctors, lawyers, and average working class men. Law enforcement has shut down labs, arrested suppliers, and forced changes in the way steroids are made, bought, and sold. China has jumped in with both feet to produce and supply performance enhancing drugs to the U.S. There’s a lot of money to be made in this industry, and this can’t be ignored. China has brought to the table inexpensive HGH that almost anyone can afford. What once was only available to a few top level bodybuilders and pro athletes, HGH is now taken by athletes of all levels. In recent years, a countless number of growth hormone releasing peptides and hormones have become available from China. When taking into consideration the SARMs and research chemicals available today, the list of drugs being used for bodybuilding purposes can seem never ending. Even though steroids are more controlled and prosecuted by law enforcement than ever before, they are more accepted on a social level and are used by a much broader group than ever. I imagine that new bodybuilding drugs will continue to be developed, and I also foresee the scrutiny by lawmakers to continue to tighten. As we see from the past, this may impact the steroid industry, but it will never shut it down. It will just continue to evolve.