Both gardaí and medicines inspectors are concerned at the growth in the illicit sale of steroids online, much of it controlled by criminal networks both here and abroad.
They are urging owners and managers of gyms to be vigilant for any trade in steroids on their premises, pointing out that the abuse of steroids can result in heart problems or stroke.
The warnings came as the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), along with the customs service and gardaí, put on display some of the 142,000 fake tablets and capsules seized during a one-week period.
The seizures, worth more than €430,000, consisted of medicines such as:
- Sedatives: 104,000 units (tablets);
- Anabolic steroids: 12,000 units;
- Erectile dysfunction: 8,000 units;
- Slimming: 2,000 units;
- Others (such as cosmetics): 16,000 units.
The seizures had been made in the week June 9-16 and were part of a global Interpol operation, code-named Pangea VIII.
HPRA chief executive Pat O’Mahony said counterfeit and illegal medicines “pose a serious health risk” to consumers as they have “no idea what they were getting”.
He said some products, like slimming tablets, contained sibutramine, which has been banned because it is “so dangerous”, as it has been linked to cardiac problems and stroke.
Mr O’Mahony said in the last number of years they had seen “a particular expansion” in the amount of steroids seized, which are used by body builders, as well as slimming products.
He said steroids can have “cardiovascular effects” and if abused over a number of years can cause “long-term, permanent damage to heart muscle”.He said there was a lot of anecdotal evidence that steroids were “widely available” through networks in gyms.
Mr O’Mahony said gym owners and staff had a responsibility to make sure people were aware of the dangers of steroids. He indicated that the HPRA and the gardaí would be taking “more action in this area”.
Det Supt Anthony Howard of the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau said they were involved in a number of ongoing operations with the HPRA. “Anabolic steroids would be an area where we see prevalence over the years; we’re pursuing those individuals involved in the sale or supply.”
He said that forthcoming changes in the law will make the supply of these substances a criminal matter, as they will be listed as controlled substances. Currently, they are only regulated under medicines law.
“I am aware there is a legislative change in relation to the sale and supply of anabolic steroids and it will be brought in under primary legislation which is the Misuse of Drugs Act.”
He said organised crime, here and abroad, was involved in the online trade in counterfeit medicines generally.
Det Supt Howard said the two people arrested as part of Operation Pangea involved a seizure in Dublin’s north inner city of a significant amount of tablets, thought to be sedatives. He said a file was being compiled for the DPP.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said people were taking “an enormous risk” buying medicines online and that “50% of the medicine sold by unregulated online retailers is estimated to be unreliable and potentially harmful.