Designer Steroid May Threaten U.S. Sports

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, October 17, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.


ANNOUNCER: There's the payoff. A throw to Bonds. And he hits it high. He hits it deep. And it is over here.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: A splasher for Barry Bonds (search). Some Major League baseball and NFL players have been linked to a company believed to be handing out a new sophisticated illegal steroid. Now the promising careers of many Olympic hopefuls could also be in jeopardy. They were busted for using this designer drug after a surprise anti-doping test. Joining us now in the studio, Dr. Gary Wadler (search).

He is an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine (search) and helped develop the prohibited drug list for the world anti-doping agency. That is today's big question. What can this steroid do to America's sports teams? Decimate them?

DR. GARY WADLER, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, NYU SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, not only our teams but our athletes, not only the professionals but kids in high school and all of us.

GIBSON: I don't get it. Everybody knows what steroids are. Everybody knows they are illegal. So how could these guys have been using them, and be tested and get away with it?

WADLER: Complicated question with many answers and many parts. Clearly, it's available. It's available on the black market, comes in from Mexico and other countries. High school kids are using it, boys, girls are using it. The elite athletes certainly have access to it. Those who are determined to try and gain unfair athletic advantage at any cost, I can assure you, they can get anabolic steroids.

GIBSON: But this is a new one and this one is called THG (search). It is apparently being distributed by BALCO, which is the Bay Area Laboratory Company (search). And there is this is a guy named Victor Conti in San Francisco who is a self-described nutritionist for many top athletes including Barry Bonds, Olympic sprint champion Marion Jones. Conti says this isn't a steroid.

WADLER: Well, he's wrong. He's flat-out wrong. There are definitions of steroids defined by the federal government by federal laws. You cannot get testosterone, which many patients need for therapy without getting a very sophisticated kind of prescription.

It's all governed by laws passed in 1990 called the Controlled Substances Act (search). And that governs specifically anabolic steroids, which grew out of the whole crisis in the '80s and the Ben Johnson era. To say it's not a steroid is wrong legally, and wrong chemically and wrong physiologically. It's wrong.

GIBSON: He has some reason to say that. Is there some game going on here with both molecules and the law?

WADLER: Yes, in my view, there is. For example, the law, which is very, very stringent, which, as I said, came in 1990, is determined to keep a control over a substance which is very dangerous. And what they have, in fact, done over a period of time is put increasing controls on it.

But at the same time, they opened up a back door by another federal law called the Supplement Act of 1994. So, you're familiar with the steroid Andro but the government doesn't call that a steroid. They call it a supplement. Andro in the body becomes testosterone, the father of all anabolic steroids. That's controlled by the Controlled Substances Act.

My thinking is that they are trying to play the game, saying it belongs in column B, supplement-type substance, as opposed to column a, steroid, and you'll find that Mr. Conti today and yesterday said this is, in fact, not an anabolic steroid. He's saying that for a reason, because the law says that you have to demonstrate muscle growth to be categorized as an anabolic steroid and he's maintained there's no such evidence.

GIBSON: Well, I mean, look at Barry Bonds. You can't say that he hasn't had muscle growth. I mean, what you're saying is that Bonds, as bulked up as he is and strong as he is, nobody ever said, by the way, this makes your eyesight any better, but he can see the ball pretty well to hit it. The deal is I'm taking the supplement and I'm working out, and that's creating the muscle growth, not what are you calling a steroid?

WADLER: Well, that's always the issue. If you look at somebody who wins a gold medal, very well developed, worked out their entire [lives]… do you say you won because you cheated or did you win because you played by the rules?

I must tell you the biggest advocates for drug reform are clean athletes. But you cannot make the quantum leap by saying somebody looks bulked up and say they got bulked up because they used an illegal substance. That's a dangerous trap.

There is a way to deal with it and that's by drug testing, to find out, in fact, is somebody taking it. I personally have problems with baseball's drug- testing program, but clearly the United States anti-doping agency, the world anti-doping agency, have come up with very comprehensive programs including out of competition testing, which is critical to deter steroid abuse.

GIBSON: Dr. Gary Wadler, a whole bunch of Olympic wannabes caught in this thing. We'll see how that deals works out. Thanks very much.

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