Underground Steroids

An underground steroid is an anabolic/androgenic steroid product that was made by an illegal (underground) laboratory. These drugs are specifically manufactured for sale to athletes and bodybuilders on the black market, and are not available through legitimate channels such as pharmacies and drug distributors. These companies are unlicensed, unregulated, and operate in a completely clandestine manner. At one time the term underground steroid was considered synonymous with counterfeit steroid, but today many people view these two categories as separate. The main point of distinction between an underground steroid and a counterfeit steroid is that the latter is a copy of a legitimate pharmaceutical product, which was made in an effort to deceive the consumer. Underground steroid manufacturers, on the other hand, use distinct brand names that are not to be confused with registered drug companies. They often try to build recognition in the marketplace for their products, and commonly use real steroid ingredients in substantial dosages. Tighter government enforcement of steroid laws and legitimate distribution channels has fueled an explosion of underground steroid manufacturing operations over the past decade. The business model is now fairly common, and may account for more than 50% of all anabolic/androgenic steroids illegally sold in the United States. The manufacturing process typically involves the sourcing of raw steroid materials from countries where strict regulations concerning the manufacture and sale of drug ingredients are not in place. These ingredients are then smuggled into an area of high regulation such as the United States or Europe, where they are made into individual drug units (vials, ampules, pill bottles, or blister cards) with the use of small-scale packaging machines. In some cases these operations are so large they hire offshore drug manufacturing facilities to assemble their products. Such operations are small in number though, and account for a small portion of the total number of underground laboratories.

Drug Purity

Drug manufacturing safety is a central focus in Western medicine. Pharmaceuticals are intended to treat ill patients, not cause additional harm by being improperly dosed or containing bacteria, heavy metal, or other forms of contamination. Products made for human consumption are only made after government approval by government-licensed companies. These companies are highly regulated and routinely inspected. Their products must only contain materials that come from other licensed suppliers, which also adhere to strict pharmaceutical-grade purity standards (such as USP/BP). These companies must also assemble their products in meticulously scrutinized “clean room” facilities designed to prevent any contamination from air and personnel. Each material or piece of equipment that comes into contact with the drug product must be sterile, and the entire process must result in a preparation that contains exactly and only what the label intends. In short, there is essentially zero margin for error when it comes to pharmaceutical manufacturing.

The above description is in stark contract to the underground steroid manufacturing business. By their very nature, these companies are not under government license or oversight. A majority of underground steroid products will, likewise, not be assembled in a sterile environment, or with the use of expensive pharmaceutical grade materials and equipment. Instead, most are manufactured in a dwelling home or small clandestine business with the use of “food grade” raw materials and manually operated vial/bottle filling and sealing tools. The opportunities for contamination in this type of process are great. By Western medical standards, most underground steroids are, of course, not fit for human consumption. Even so, many consumers still buy these products. They may find attraction to cheaper prices, higher doses, greater selection, or easier availability. Perhaps more simply, they may not be aware of the risks involved. No analysis of product purity specific to underground steroids has previously been published to help consumers weigh these risks.

ANABOLICS Underground Market Analysis

In an effort to help consumers assess the quality and potential health risks of underground steroid products, ANABOLICS undertook a detailed joint drug analysis project in April 2007. This project examined the quality of steroids made from underground facilities, and exceeded the normal scope of testing by examining a number of other variables often overlooked in dosage testing. A total of 14 underground steroid samples were selected for laboratory testing, which included products from Amplio Labs, British Dragon, Diamond Pharma, Generic Anabolics, Generic Pharma, Lizard Laboratories, Medical Inc., Microbiological Labs, Nordic Supplements, Shark Laboratories, SWE Supplements, and Troy Labs. Included in this list were drugs that were made from small underground manufacturers, mid-level operations, and even producers large enough to have their items assembled under contract by drug manufacturing facilities. All 14 samples were analyzed at a registered and licensed facility in the United States.

There were four specific areas of testing for the 2007 market analysis project. The first test was to look for the presence of toxic heavy metals such as lead, tin, mercury, and arsenic. These metals all pose specific threats to health if they accumulate in the body. Those metals considered inert, such as iron and aluminum, were not included. Next, we commissioned the standard steroid quantification testing to see how these products were dosed, then checked for unknown steroidal contaminants. Pharmaceutical grade steroids are highly pure. Unprocessed intermediary chemicals or other contaminants should not appear upon analysis. The presence of unknown steroidal substances would signify that lower quality materials (not made to pharmaceutical standards) were used. Finally, we examined the oil for the flavoring agen 2,4 decadienal. This material is common to food products, and its presence would demonstrate that food-grade oil (not pure pharmaceutical-grade oil for injection) was used during product manufacture.

The specific results for each of the four testing sets are presented in the tables below. Overall, the products examined in this study reflected poorly on the quality of the underground steroid market. To begin with, more than 20% of the products (1 in 5) contained heavy metal contamination. While pre-market testing would have caught this, if such products were ever found on pharmacy shelves in the United States it would trigger an immediate nationwide recall. Next, an examination of basic drug dosing showed many immediate nationwide recall. Next, an examination of basic drug dosing showed many deviations. Approximately 35% of the products were actually significantly overdosed. While this was likely done in an effort to produce a stronger user response and loyal customer base, this is an unacceptable tactic which raises many potential safety issues. In the third set of tests, more than 60% of the samples were shown to contain some type of unidentified steroidal compound. This does not necessarily mean the products were dangerous, as this may simply consist of inert steroid precursors/intermediary compounds. It does, however, show that impure steroid materials were used during the manufacturing process. Lastly, testing for 2,4-decadienal confirmed that at least 14% of the steroids tested used food grade oil, perhaps the type purchased in a grocery store.


Wlliam Llewellyn (2011) - Anabolics

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