Mornings - 11 March
with Nicole Dyer on 91.7 ABC Gold Coast
Queensland had the highest arrest data of any state according to the 2014 Crime Commission Illicit Drug Data.
Nicole: Dr Dan Donner is a steroid researcher and PhD Graduate from Griffith University and he joins me now. Dr Donner good morning.
Dr Donner: Good morning Nicole how are you?
Nicole: I'm good how did you come to research steroids?
Dr Donner: Initially it was a team of researchers looking to find the safer alternative to traditional steroids. Because for decades we've acknowledged the risks of testosterone, the steroid we work with, in its abuse. And we're looking for the that safer, synthetic version of testosterone for use in men who are ageing and can't produce their own testosterone any more.
Nicole: So this is a direct link between that and steroid use when they were younger?
Dr Donner: It's not, but that's what we're looking down the barrel of with the current population, the crisis we may be facing, generally.
Nicole: I want to talk about the health implications in just a moment but I suppose when we talk about steroids on the show we find it's very hard to talk to users, did you find it hard to talk to steroid users yourself?
Dr Donner: I think they are a little more secretive and keep their cards closer to their chest just because of the social cheating aspect and people wanting to keep private how they attain that physique that they have and that does make them a little more secretive. But as a researcher, as soon as my role in research was more linked to steroid use I did find that people become more forthcoming with their experiences, and they're generally quite negative and they're not the sort of problems that people talk about in the media.
Nicole: So could you expand on that a bit more?
Dr Donner: Yes sure, so I mean generally people are worried about things like the acne and hair growth that's associated with steroid abuse but I think the more pervasive problem, the long term issue is with that of fertility and the ability to produce testosterone. Because once a user does start taking testosterone, they are rendered unable to make their own testosterone and that gets worse and worse the more they continue to abuse the drug.
Nicole: Do you think that the community as a whole, do you think that we're aware of how many people use steroids recreationally?
Dr Donner: I don;'t think that it is discussed enough and I really appreciate the air-time today to bring it to the front of the news again. It's not your body builder and people who are competing on stage that are the typical users, it generally the white collar and blue collar professionals in some regard who are going to the gym two to three times a week, the sort of weekend warrior type - it's far more pervasive.
Nicole: And they're taking it because it helps them look bigger, faster?
Dr Donner: Generally speaking, that's the reason why people jump on it. I think the real problem is it's far too accessible these days to start a cycle and people don't acknowledge the risks with just beginning, they don't acknowledge, well they're not told that once they start, not only do they become addicted, they're very likely to become dependent on it physiologically. They will need to continue the treatment for potentially the rest of their lives if they're not under medical supervision.
Nicole: Dr Dan Donner is a steroid researcher, he's a PhD graduate from Griffith University and he truly believes that we are in the middle of an epidemic of steroid use. And it doesn't often get the attention that it deserves and given that ice seems to be the "sexier" drug to talk about,if you like. How fast can people bulk up, and if it is ridiculously quick, surely questions must be asked, and should there be more of an emphasis on people who run gyms to say "Mate, are you okay? Are you looking after yourself the right way?"
Dr Donner: I think that's part of the potential solution, having those people in key roles opening the discussion with these users and I think people are able to jump on [steroids] far too easily and it's that discussion that needs to start about what happens once you start. People are able to bulk up really quickly as you say, the typical cycle - as it's called - is something between six to eight weeks, you can see pretty dramatic changes in these users. People typically think they are going to do one cycle. I'd say about 90% of people who do start steroids are planning to do it once and jump off and be happy with the results. But it's not until they start to feel the effects, the mood swings, and seeing the body changes and the hunger and the sleep disturbances that they start to ask the bigger questions about how is this going to affect me long term, and am I going to need to continue this treatment, continue this substance abuse to maintain health.
Nicole: So basically you're saying that a small amount of steroid use can have long-term repercussions in terms of sexual dysfunction and fertility issues down the track?
Dr Donner: Yes, as well as things like cardiac problems/heart problems, bone mineral density issues - there's a lot of different ways that steroids, male sex hormones contribute to our maintenance of health to look after men long-term and if we do disturb that we are really looking at a dependency issue long-term
Nicole: Does the dependency come from "If I don't keep taking it then all of a sudden these bad moods set in" or is it more a mental thing that I want to keep looking this way? Where does this addiction stem from?
Dr Donner: Well I guess similar to other drug use, once the user stops taking the drug they feel... they're far more likely to experience things like depression and mood swings and anti-social behaviour so pulling away from society and friends and family and that's where some of the risk is where people feel the need to continue the treatment. The other problem is obviously once the steroids are stopped their physique is very hard to maintain, especially in the absence of any natural steroid being produced any more. So in order to keep feeling the way they were feeling weeks ago while they were taking the drug they just feel the need to jump on it again. Of that majority of users who initially to plan to only take one treatment or only go through one cycle of [steroids], the vast majority of those people continue with second and third courses and that's where the long-term troubles set in.
Nicole: How long is a cycle? What time are you referring to?
Dr Donner: It can be anything from four weeks or just a few weeks of any steroid abuse up to six to eight weeks is fairly typical. It is important for family members and members of gyms to really keep a close eye on people who are changing rapidly at the gym [..physically..] like that, just to make sure that they are aware or that they are under some sort of medical supervision or at least comfortable with talking with a health professional about the inherent risks of what they may be doing.
Nicole: Would you like to see as many resources poured into steroid education as ice education be it ads on TV, be it education in schools, whatever it takes, would you like to see that pushed more?
Dr Donner: I would definitely Nicole, I think although ice is far more closely associated [with] the sort of anti-social behaviour and the violence and that sort of thing in comparison to steroids, I think the long term consequences of steroids for the young man of today are far more dire because we can encourage people to discontinue ice use or discontinue any other drug and support them through that process but really once a user of steroids has been through a few repeated cycles of this abuse it's almost unsafe for them to come off of the drug and that's where the medical or healthcare professionals really need to get involved or potentially it may even be too late then so we really need to hit this a little bit earlier in its process.
Nicole: Yeah, and you know with social media and everybody wanting to take selfies and put themselves up looking brilliant without their shirts on and you know okay the body beautiful, it's there, but you've gotta weight it up don't you and it's hard when you're young and you think you're going to live forever and to realise that what you're doing now and how great you're feeling now and how good you think you look now but in years to come you might not be able to have kids, you might get osteoporosis and you might have a weak heart, and you might be infertile. So, there you go.
Dr Donner: I think it's undeniable that social media is playing a role now and that we are living in a completely different time, it's far easier to access images of the people living in the same street as us who look like the bodybuilders of yesteryear and feel like that's the new social norm. So there's definitely something that needs to be addressed, at least starting the discussion the way that you have today.
Nicole: Thank you so much Dr Donner, I appreciate your time this morning, just getting the message out and keep up the good work.
Dr Donner: Thank you very much.
Nicole: Steroid researcher and PhD grad from Griffith University, Dr Dan Donner. It is now seven to nine Queensland time.