A person has sought medical help for health problems caused by serious steroid abuse once every nine days so far this year amid fears of a hidden crisis among young men. New figures show 162 people contacted hospitals or GPs due to steroid abuse since 2011 — with the rate increasing in the second half of the decade.
According to official HSE statistics, in 2011, 2012 and 2013 a total of 11, 13 and 19 cases were formally registered, the equivalent of one incident every three weeks to a month across the country. However, they have since risen sharply, with 28 cases in 2015, 20 in 2016, 24 in 2017, 17 in 2018 and 13 up to April this year.
The increase in cases emerged less than a year after Cork city coroner Philip Comyn raised serious concerns over steroid use after the death of 18-year-old rugby player Luke O’Brien May was linked to his use of anabolic steroid Stanozolol.
And, coupled with garda and Revenue figures showing tens of thousands of illegally bought steroids are being confiscated by customs officials every year, the new statistics have given rise to claims the HSE figures are just “the tip of the iceberg”.
In the same period, Revenue and garda figures show 38,049 pills or capsules of illegal anabolic steroids were seized by customs officials in 2016, 109,006 in 2017, and 449,411 last year, with Health Minister Simon Harris telling the Dáil recently there is “growing evidence” of a rise in steroid use.
Ms O’Reilly said she believes the official total of 162 people seeking medical help for steroid use is “very definitely the tip of the iceberg”.
While saying there are a number of potential causes, Ms O’Reilly said teens and young men increasingly take steroids to “bulk up” due to public male images and the need to compete in increasingly high-level sports.
While the HSE declined to release an age breakdown of the steroid abuse figures, the Department of Health has indicated the issue is almost completely related to teens and young men.
A “zero gain” Health Products Regulatory Authority public information campaign was launched in gyms last year to highlight the dangers of steroid use. Last year, Cork city coroner Philip Comyn raised serious concerns about steroid use.
“Most of these steroids are obtained illegally,” he said. “You do not know what you are getting.I hope people will become aware of the dangers of these drugs.”