Lid lifted on town’s hidden drug use

Dangerous - steroids
Dangerous - steroids
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USING them can lead to infertility, baldness, acne, overgrowth of the forehead and increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.

They also heighten aggression which increases the risk of violence and falling foul of the law.

Yet increasing numbers of young males are using them to boost their appearance. It seems a complete contradiction in terms.

But rumbling along underneath the radar of many authorities, anabolic steroid abuse is having a dramatic effect in the borough and according to Wigan’s senior police officer, it is a problem that is not going to go away by itself.

“It’s very much a hidden drug,” Chief Supt Shaun Donnellan explains. “If you just look at the statistics, you wouldn’t think it was a problem in Wigan, or indeed in Greater Manchester. But it is going on and I would urge people not to do it because it has some terrible side effects.”

The statistics that the police chief refers to appear to highlight one of the major factors crime, health and drug prevention services have when it comes to steroids; unless one scratches away under the surface, there does not appear to be a problem.

Less than one per cent of service users that use Wigan’s Substance Misuse (WSMS) team are steroid users. That number has remained constant for the past seven years. But the figures do not appear to tell the full story.

Steroid use is often categorised along with “other issues”, according to the WSMS. “Therefore it is very difficult to get an accurate picture of the situation.

“The majority of individuals don’t use specialist treatment services for steroids, information is limited and data potentially unreliable.”

This “under the radar” nature of the problem is something that is not lost on the police chief.

Ch Supt Donnellan said: “The evidence base is not awfully compelling at the moment. A lot of it is masked - for example people suffer from depression from it, they go to the doctors and they get treated for that and not the steroid addiction.

“Or they become aggressive and maybe have run-ins with the police but we wouldn’t necessarily attribute that behaviour to steroids and so it goes undetected.

“We can see why it would be attractive. People saying take this drug and you can get the results you want in one month instead of six but obviously from the medical point of view it has serious effects.

“If I had to describe a typical steroid user, it’s a man, in his 30s who is in full-time employment - which again shows why it may remain hidden. These are not your usual people you would class as addicts.”

In terms of the risks involved in using steroids as a training aid, to achieve long-term goals - they mimic the effects of testosterone, helping muscle growth and development - over a shorter period of time, Ch Supt Donnellan believes users are taking calculated risks with their health.

He said: “I think it’s a mixture, in that as well as the people taking it who aren’t aware of the risks, I think you’ve got people using who are intelligent enough and who want to be in better shape, who are eating healthily and training to keep fit and they think it’s a risk worth taking to help with their training.

“But just like heroin users, we can look at someone and know they’re heroin users. And it’s the same with steroids because these people just look unnaturally ripped, it’s a hulked over type look.

“Maybe it is seen as an attractive option for young men in the borough because we are such a sporty area. That would be hard thing to confirm but we can’t count it out.

And the steroid problem, which Ch Supt Donellan believes has its root some of the borough’s gyms and training facilities, is not one that is readily going to disappear.

He said: “If I was pushed into a judgement I would have to say that this is a problem that is not going to go away, no. As long as there’s gyms and a desire to get that type of look, I can’t see it going. I think it will keep carrying on in the background, as it is at the moment.

“And in terms of other illegal substances, the danger is always there. Say you’ve been training hard for five hours a day because you’re using steroids, you’re knackered and then someone offers you cannabis to relax in the evening.

“Perhaps the next day you’re offered some amphetamines or cocaine to get you going again. Dealers, will exploit their market.”

If the problem is here to stay, the best way to reduce its effects is to better educate people about their severe health effects, according to the top cop.

He added: “It’s all about education and educating about the damages to the health. If you look at the campaigns against smoking, let people know what effect they’re having to their body. That has been very successful.

“At one time it was cool to smoke and maybe that’s the same with steroids at the moment. Peer pressure at the gym may turn people onto it. Education about the health implications is the only way to help people make that choice to say no.”