In the 1970's and 1980's, federal regulation of anabolic steroids came under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. 21 U.S.C.A. Sections 351, 352, 353, 355 (1981 & Supp. 1990).
Steroid History and Law
Anabolic steroids were required to be prescribed and dispensed by licensed physicians but were not scheduled as controlled substances. It is often overlooked, however, that black market drug trafficking of anabolic steroids already was illegal before anabolics became classified as controlled substances. Under 1988 legislation amending the Food and Drug Act, criminal penalties were specifically set forth for traffickers in anabolic steroids for non-medical reasons. This Anti-Drug Abuse Act would have enabled effective enforcement against those illegally dispensing steroids and black market dealers, including application of federal forfeiture laws, without classifying steroids as controlled substances. Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, Pub. L. No. 100-690, Sec 2401, 102 Stat. 4181 (1988), repealed in November, 1990, effective Feb., 1991, by the Anabolic Steroids Control Act.

The Hearings

In the mid-1980's, media reports of the increasing use of anabolic steroids in sports, including a "silent epidemic" of high school steroid use, came to the attention of the U.S. government. A joint Task Force to prosecute dealers was created with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. By the spring of 1990, there had been 125 legal actions on various steroid-related charges in 27 different federal districts. J.E. Wright and V.S. Cowart, Anabolic Steroids: Altered States (Carmel, IN; Benchmark Press, 1990), at 118. Over 175 steroid trafficking convictions had been obtained prior to classification of steroids as controlled substances. Rorie Sherman, "The Big Push," Nat'l L.J., Feb. 10, 1992, at 40, 42.

But even as prosecutions increased, Congress was growing particularly concerned with steroid use among high school students and among top amateur athletes. Certain members representing only a small minority of the medical community began suggesting controlled substance status for anabolic steroids. See, W.N. Taylor, M.D., "Synthetic Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids: A Plea for Controlled Substance Status," The Physician and Sportsmedicine (Vol. 15, Number 5, May 1987). Between 1988 and 1990, Congressional hearings were held to determine whether the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to include anabolic steroids along with more serious drugs like cocaine and heroin. The majority of witnesses who testified, including medical professionals and representatives of regulatory agencies (including the FDA, the DEA and the National Institute on Drug Abuse) recommended against the proposed amendment to the law. Even the American Medical Association repeatedly and vehemently opposed it, maintaining that steroid abuse does not lead to the physical or psychological dependence required for scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. (The AMA recommended education, not criminalization, to combat steroid abuse.) Nevertheless, Congress scheduled steroids as Schedule III controlled substances under Title 21 of the United States Code, which regulates Food and Drugs. The legislation was called the "Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990," Pub. L. No. 101-647, Sec. 1902, 104 Stat. 4851 (1990) (amending 21 U.S.C. 812(c) (1981) to include anabolic steroids). Why did Congress ignore these experts and decide to schedule steroids as Schedule III controlled substances?

The focus of the hearings suggests that any "psychologically addictive" properties of anabolic steroids were secondary considerations to Congress. The majority of witnesses who testified at the hearings leading to the legislation were representatives from either amateur or professional athletics. The testimony, and apparently Congress' main concern, focused on legislative action in an effort to solve an athletic "cheating" problem. Congress had a solution in mind - amending the Controlled Substances Act - and planned to proceed with or without the blessing of the DEA or the medical community. As a result, steroids stand out as an anomaly among the codeine derivatives, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants that form the rest of the Schedule III substances.

J. Burge, Legalize and Regulate: A Prescription for Reforming Anabolic Steroid Legislation, 15 Loy. L.A. Ent. L.J., 33, at 45 (1994).

U.S. Federal Law

The Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990 became law on November 29, 1990, when President Bush signed the Omnibus Crime Control Bill. The law applies in every Federal court across the country. It places steroids in the same legal class - Schedule III -- as amphetamines, methamphetamines, opium and morphine. Simple possession of any Schedule III substance is a federal offense punishable by up to one year in prison and/or a minimum fine of $1,000. Simple possession by a person with a previous conviction for certain offenses, including any drug or narcotic crimes, must get imprisonment of at least 15 days and up to two years, and a minimum fine of $2,500. Individuals with two or more such previous convictions face imprisonment of not less than 90 days but not more than three years, and a minimum fine of $5,000, just for simply possessing. Selling steroids, or possessing them with intent to sell, is a federal felony. An individual who sells steroids, or possesses with intent to sell, is punishable by up to five years in prison (with at least two additional years of supervised release) and/or a $250,000 fine. An individual who commits such a violation after a prior conviction for a drug offense faces up to ten years imprisonment (with at least four additional years of special parole) and/or increased fines. The relevant sections of Title 21 of the U.S. Code are as follows: 21 U.S.C. 801 (authorizes restrictions on controlled substances); 21 U.S.C. 802(41)(A) (defines "anabolic steroids" as any drug or hormonal substance, chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone that promotes muscle growth, and includes boldenone, chlorotestosterone, clostebol, dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, dihydrotestosterone, drostanolone, ethylestrenol, fluoxymesterone, formobulone, mesterolone, methandranone, methandriol, methandrostenolone, methenolone, methyltestosterone, mibolerone, nandrolone, norethandrolone, oxandrolone, oxymesterone, oxymetholone, stanolone, stanozolol, testolactone, testosterone, trenbolone, and any muscle growth promoting salt, ester or isomer of a drug or substance described or listed above); 21 U.S.C. 811 (criteria for classification of controlled substances); 21 U.S.C. 812(c) (lists anabolic steroids as a Schedule III controlled substances); 21 U.S.C. 841(b)(1)(D) (penalties for sale and possession with intent to sell anabolic steroids); and 21 U.S.C. 844 (penalties for simple possession of anabolic steroids).

Between February 1991 and February 1995, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) initiated 355 anabolic steroid investigations resulting in over 400 arrests and over 200 convictions. C.E. Yesalis and V.S. Cowart, The Steroids Game (Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics, 1998), at 107. While the majority of defendants receiving significant federal prison time were traffickers (one Miami gym owner got eight years in prison), anyone arrested for even simple possession faces the prospect of a criminal prosecution, with its potential lifelong stigma, adverse effects on future employment, etc.

The Anabolic Steroids Control Act can be enforced and violations prosecuted in every state. The primary federal law enforcement agencies dealing with anabolics include the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), U.S. Postal Inspectors and U.S. Customs. Airport and border stops are obviously a common way that persons possessing anabolics come to the attention of law enforcement. But federal authorities can investigate anabolic steroid distribution in a variety of ways. For example, monitoring news groups and chat rooms on the Internet has become a common approach of federal agents. Trying to sell or buy steroids over the Internet can be an excellent way of getting oneself arrested. It is always best to assume that anyone looking for steroids on the Internet is an undercover police agent.

Federal law enforcement authorities also monitor the U.S. mails. Suspicious packages coming from overseas can be examined. Among domestic parcels, those from California and the Southwest to sites on the East Coast reportedly have a higher probability of attracting attention. Once suspicion is aroused, inspectors will investigate records of prior packages involving the points of origin or destination. If illegal drugs are found in the mail, the U.S. Postal inspectors will often arrange a "controlled delivery" of the package to the designated recipient. If the package is accepted, agents will immediately enter with a search warrant to look for additional drugs. Obviously, mailing anabolics is risky business.

Laws of the States

During 1989 and 1990, many states reclassified anabolic steroids to become controlled substances under state law. A 1991 survey of anabolic steroid state legislation found that approximately twenty-two states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas) had tightened control over steroids in the preceding two years. Norma Reddig, Anabolic Steroids: The Price of Pumping Up!, 37 Wayne L. Rev., 1647 , at 1661, 1663 (1991). State laws differ as to the classification level for anabolic steroids, providing for a wide range of penalties. The states also differ in their approach to controlling anabolics. Some, such as Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas and Michigan, require the posting of notices designed for public education as to the dangers of illegal use. Id. at 1662. Further, Delaware, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas have promulgated rules as to the prescription of anabolic steroids, warning practitioners against dispensation for non-medical use. Id. At 1663.

In New York State, the New York Public Health Law Section 3306 classifies the following as Schedule II controlled substances:

    (h) Anabolic steroids. Unless specifically excepted or unless listed in another schedule, 'anabolic steroid' shall mean any drug or hormonal substance, chemically and pharmacologically related to testosterone (other than estrogens, progestins and corticosteroids) that promotes muscle growth, any drug or hormonal substance that stimulates the endogenous production of steroids in the human body which acts in the same manner, or any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any amount of the following substances: (1) Boldenone. (2) Clostebol. (3) Dehydrochlormethyltestosterone. (4) Drostanolone. (5) Ethylestrenol. (6) Fluoxymesterone. (7) Formebulone (formebolone). (8) Mesterolene. (9) Methandriol. (10) Methandrostenolone. (11) Methenolone. (12) Methyltestosterone. (13) Mibolerone. (14)Nandrolone. (15) Norethandrolone. (16) Oxandrolone. (17) Oxymesterone. (18) Oxymetholone. (19) Stanolone. (20) Stanozolol. (21) Testosterone. (22) Trenbolone. (23) Any salt, ester or isomer of a drug or substance described or listed in this subdivision, if such salt, ester or isomer promotes muscle growth.

    (i) Subdivision (h) of this section shall not include any substance containing anabolic steroids expressly intended for administration through implants to cattle or other nonhuman species and that are approved by the federal food and drug administration solely for such use. Any individual who knowingly and willfully administers to himself or another person, prescribes, dispenses or distributes such substances for other than implantation to cattle or nonhuman species shall be subject to the same penalties as a practitioner who violates the provisions of this section or any other penalties prescribed by law.

    (j) Chorionic gonadotrophin. Unless specifically excepted or unless listed in another schedule any material, compound, mixture, or preparation which contains any amount of chorionic gonadotrophin."

Possession of a controlled substance can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor criminal offense under Section 220.03 of the New York State Penal Law. A class "A" misdemeanor, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree is punishable by up to one year in jail, although few first-time offenders are sentenced to jail time.

Under Section 220.31 of the New York State Penal Law, sale of anabolic steroids is a class "D" felony in New York, regardless of the quantity sold. In New York, "sell" is defined to include simply giving away as well as the act of offering or agreeing to sell. Sale of steroids is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Even gainfully employed, first-time offenders in many parts of New York State can serve some jail time, be placed on five years of supervision by the local probation department, and suffer the lifelong stigma of a felony drug sale conviction.

COPYRIGHT (c) 1999 by Rick Collins. All rights reserved. No commercial reproduction of any portion of this material is permitted without the express written permission of the author.