Steroids have an obvious association with sports. The performance-enhancing drugs are a natural temptation for athletes, and dozens of prominent American athletes have either admitted, been tied to, or suspected of using steroids to enhance their bodies.
But in all of the news broken about steroids, interesting figures have surfaced that suggest the steroid market is huge -- much bigger than elite athletes could support on their own.
In a feature for ProPublica, David Epstein cites a recent DEA bust of four labs in Arizona that held 150,000 doses of steroids. those labs were part of an operation that supplied drugs to 20 states and four countries outside of the U.S.
That volume can't be supported by professional athletes alone. Epstein offers plenty of evidence supporting that argument.
It isn't just athletes taking steroids. It's a ton of people -- athletes and non-athletes, people famous and anonymous.
Epstein references a man named Tony Britton, an early adopter of steroids as a performance-enhancing drug. Britton became a steady supplier of those drugs to professional athletes, include several in the NFL. Epstein was able to look through a ledger from his steroid-selling days and was shocked by what he saw:
"The ledger recounted about a year of his sales, and while college football and NFL players, power lifters, professional wrestlers and bodybuilders were among the buyers, the ledger was filled with a diverse smattering of customers, from gym owners to policemen and soldiers to droves of guys who just wanted to have bigger muscles," Epstein writes.
Epstein makes the suggestion that the market for steroids is represented by the large audience of muscle magazines. Men in particular are eager to increase their muscle mass and appear stronger, creating powerful cultural trends that fan the flames of steroid use.
And there's evidence that the Baby Boomer generation is leading this trend's current growth. Epstein notes that the number of men in their forties getting testosterone supplement prescriptions increased four-fold between 2001 and 2011.
"And guess what's often cheaper and easier to get than prescribed, pharmaceutical grade testosterone? Chemical analogs of testosterone -- that's what steroids are -- that someone sells on the black market or markets as a dietary supplement," Epstein writes.
Professional athletes may be the cover-boys for steroid use, but they're only a fraction of the current market for the drugs. Amazingly, the larger share of that market often goes ignored.