A coroner has issued a stark warning about the potentially lethal dangers of taking anabolic steroids after hearing details about the tragic death of a fit and healthy sports-mad teenager.
Cork City Coroner Philip Comyn returned a verdict of misadventure today after an inquest was told how the muscle-building steroid, stanozolol, contributed to the death of Luke O'Brien-May, 17, from Grange, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, last year.
Cork City Coroner's Court was told that Luke fell ill and was vomiting during the early stages of his leaving cert in June 2017 and visited his GP, who prescribed medication and administered an injection in a bid to get him through the exams.
But he became very unwell and disorientated at home on June 13, 2017, and was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Limerick.
The next day, his father, Denis, gave the medical team an empty pack of stanozolol, with the name of an Indian factory on the box.
Luke was transferred to Cork University Hospital (CUH) on June 16 where his condition deteriorated and he was pronounced dead on June 18.
Consultant physician, Dr Robert Plant, said the teenager's brain swelled to such an extent that it triggered a rapid and sudden decline which caused brain death.
He said it was clear that Luke had been suffering from a brain injury from the outset, and he could say with certainty that doctors found no other cause for the brain swelling.
He said the myriad side-effects of drugs like stanozolol on the liver, kidneys, heart and brain are well-known but he said there is increasing awareness that such drugs are also neurotoxic.
But he said people buy the muscle-building performance-enhancing drugs online with no clarity on the contents or purity, and take them based on the anecdotal suggestions or advice of friends in the gym.
Assistant state pathologist, Dr Margot Bolster, said a post mortem found trace elements of the steroid in Luke's blood.
She said there was no evidence of a viral infection or of a blood vessel swelling condition in the brain, and no significant pathology to account for the other symptoms.
The only finding of note was the presence of the traces of stanozolol, and that a rare side effect of taking the drug was brain swelling.
She said in her opinion, the cause of death was severe brain swelling following ingestion of stanozolol.
Luke's parents, Brid and Denis, through their legal representative, Liam Carrol, junior counsel, said while they accept Luke had been taking the steroid, they said they failed to see the concrete link between its use and his eventual decline.
But Mr Comyn said based on the clinical and post mortem evidence, he was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the cause of death was linked to the ingestion of the steroid.
He extended his sympathies to Luke's family and said he hopes the details of the case serve as a warning to others.
"He was a young man with the world ahead of him. It is a terrible tragedy," he said.
"But they carry with them a significant and serious health risk.
"Most are obtained illegally and over the internet.
"You do not know what you are getting and it can have life-changing or even life-terminating effects.
"Hopefully people will become more aware of the dangers."
The coroner also praised Luke's family for consenting to organ donation.