A police taskforce targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs says that nearly half of its recent drug seizures have involved steroids, warning that some of the trafficking of these image enhancing drugs is being co-ordinated by bikie syndicates overseas.
In one recent operation, police launched 10 simultaneous raids in Brisbane, Logan and the Gold Coast, seizing human growth hormone and 200 vials of steroids and arresting seven people with suspected links to the Lone Wolves Motorcycle Club.
“The gangs have now moved into a different market, they see an opportunity to make quick money,” says Detective Inspector Brendan Smith of Queensland’s anti-bikie Taskforce Maxima.
“I think in the last four to five months almost half our seizures have been steroids.”
Police, criminologists, and health experts say society’s obsession with body image and social media is helping to drive a surge in steroid use, particularly in Queensland’s south-east corner.
“Look, I think there’s a whole body image culture, especially if you look round the Gold Coast,” Terry Goldsworthy, a former police detective who is now a criminologist at Bond University, says.
“So you have a lot people looking to improve their looks, to get fitter, and [steroids] can provide an easy way to achieve those goals that would otherwise be difficult to achieve,” Dr Goldsworthy says.
Dr Goldsworthy points to data from the Australian Crime Commission showing that Queensland accounts for about 60 per cent of steroid arrests.
“If you go back to 2007-2008, steroids have increased (since then) by some 200 per cent,” Dr Goldsworthy says.
“Compare that to drugs like amphetamine where you’ve had a 38 per cent increase.”
School-age boys taking steroids to build muscle
The clinical director of the Metro North Alcohol and Drug Service in Brisbane, Jeremy Hayllar, says he was particularly worried about school-aged males who were prepared to do almost anything to enhance their physiques.
“What we’ve seen is a steady increase in those using anabolic steroids, predominantly males,” Dr Hayllar says.
“What is really striking is that in the under-18 age group, about a fifth of those collecting needles are doing steroids.”
Much of the steroids flooding the market are coming from destinations overseas, mostly from China, south-east Asia, and Europe.
Customs and Border Protection has told the ABC that in the last six months of 2014, officers intercepted 3,056 shipments of steroids.
“The market for performance and image-enhancing drugs presents a potential for profit, especially in places like Queensland where gyms and bodybuilding may be popular, which criminal gangs and organised syndicates are keen to take advantage of,” Customs Acting Queensland Regional Commander John Ikin said.
In Australia, steroids are considered a prohibited import under the Customs Act, and can only be legally brought into the country if a person is issued with a permit from the Department of Health.
People convicted of importing these drugs illegally face fines of up to $170,000 and/or five years in jail.
Under Queensland law, steroids are now considered a dangerous drug.
“Which means it’s in the same ranking as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine,” Taskforce Maxima Chief Detective Superintendent Mick Niland said.
“So possession of these drugs can carry a term of 15 years of imprisonment, and trafficking these dangerous drugs – the steroids – can carry up to 25 years imprisonment.”