Steroid users accept risk to perform better

BOISE, Idaho -- From fitness fanatics to teenage athletes, the attraction to run faster, jump higher and look bigger and stronger is fueling an illicit steroid market with the substances often showing up unannounced in so-called dietary supplements.

Idaho psychologists and college fitness professors say demand for body-building supplements goes beyond elite athletes. People's discontent with their bodies - even among those in superb shape - often leads them to steroids and other products as one more way to tone up.

W. Rand Walker, a consulting psychologist at the University of Idaho in Moscow, often sees clients who use questionable supplements and don't intend to stop. Many come to him only at the urging of friends or spouses worried about their steroid use.

"They don't think they have a problem," he said.

One high school coach with 30 years of experience around Idaho said he isn't timid about confronting suspected steroid use.

"I've come out and asked, 'Are you using?' and they never admit it," said Greg Ashby, Parma High School athletic director and head football coach of the 2A champion Parma Panthers. Ashby said he doesn't think members of his team are taking steroids. "You can tell by looking at them, and the physical changes you're seeing in a rapid time period."

The demand for body-building supplements, combined with manufacturers who chemically tweak steroids into something not readily apparent to government officials cracking down on their use, has led the Food and Drug Administration to issue public warnings to avoid taking these substances or risk a variety of ills from liver damage to kidney problems.

In the past several months the FDA has raided a number of companies, including Meridian-based, which the FDA suspects was marketing and distributing illegal steroids.

The company has said it is cooperating with authorities but has otherwise declined to comment. The FDA said it won't comment on active investigations.