JEDDAH, 10 April 2005 — An Arab News investigation has revealed that despite a ban imposed by the Ministry of Health on the sale of anabolic steroids, they are still available at some pharmacies. Local clinics will also, with no questions asked, administer them to anyone who has them. In neither case is a prescription required. Just as camera-equipped mobile phones were illegal yet widely used and available in Saudi Arabia before the ban was lifted, so are anabolic steroids.
Illegal in many countries, they are sold and used locally by many — with little or no regard for long-term effects. Widely unregulated in the Middle East, these hormone-altering, growth enhancers became “illegal” in Saudi Arabia two years ago.
A pharmacist at Mondial Pharmacy told Arab News: “Two years ago, the Ministry of Health issued a directive banning the sale of steroids. It has since become harder for people to find them, but they’re still being sold over-the-counter at some places because the directive was never enforced. The price of a 50cc vial of Deca was SR30.”
According to AnabolicExtreme.com, the Middle East — specifically Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia — are places where anabolic steroid sales are unregulated. “All steroids are over the counter. Additionally, most pharmacy owners are also licensed doctors. For a very small sum, under $10, you can obtain a valid prescription from a doctor — if you are going to make the purchase at his pharmacy,” reads the website advisory to traveling steroid users.
With no enforcement of the ministry’s ban and little public knowledge of the negative long-term effects of steroids, Deca-Durabolin (the full name of the steroid) is making a comeback as its popularity grows.
A doctor at Al-Nahdi Pharmacy told Arab News: “We don’t sell steroids, but they are available over-the-counter without a prescription at many other pharmacies that have either not been notified of the ban or simply don’t care. Not many people know that Deca is still available locally at SR30 for a 50cc vial. I think they just assume that they are illegal and buy them through gyms,” he continued.
Abdulilah (not his real name) started going to the gym because he wanted to lose weight. A 21-year-old university student, he felt that he wasn’t big enough. At the gym he watched as others his age bench-pressed 160 kg. His competitive nature made him want to do the same. “My buddy had built up a rapport with the trainer who suggested we try steroids. He supplied us with what he said we needed,” he told Arab News.
Abdulilah spent SR1,800 on 24 50mg vials of Deca-Durabolin, also known as nandrolone decanoate — as did his friend. Not liking needles, Abdulilah was somewhat unhappy by the daily injection into his buttocks that he was told he had to have. He didn’t have the nerve to do it himself or have his friend do it for him nor did they have the necessary syringes.
He told Arab News: “I went to the Saudi American Clinic and told a nurse that I had an injection that I needed to take. Because I didn’t have a prescription, I was referred to the doctor. He asked me what the injection was for, so I told him it was for the gym. When he saw that it was Deca, he said it wasn’t a problem and he gave the nurse the authorization to inject me. I was charged SR10 for the syringe each time I went back. Since it was so easy and no one asked for a prescription, I went back 19 more times,” Abdulilah said.
In order to confirm Abdulilah’s serious allegation against the Saudi American Clinic, this journalist phoned there and spoke to two different doctors on two different days. Initially they said that the hospital didn’t administer injections without a prescription. However, when they were told that the injection was Deca-Durabolin, both said it was not a problem and asked this journalist to come in to be injected.
Dr. Naseeb Rajoub, spokesman for the Saudi American Clinic, told Arab News: “We are not allowed to carry this drug in our supplies but it is sold at Soliman Fakeeh Hospital with a prescription. If someone comes to us with it, we assume they have obtained it through legal channels and we administer the injection as a service.”
The doctor who injected Abdulilah never discussed the possible side-effects nor the complications that could arise from using steroids. Abdulilah continued: “Within a few days I started gaining weight quickly. My muscles weren’t cramping and I wasn’t sore after my workouts. During the first three weeks of using Deca, I gained 10 kg and was ecstatic.”
Within a week, however, Abdulilah began to experience some side-effects — not having had the proper medical supervision to determine his dosage.
“The first thing I noticed was that I was more volatile, more explosive. I was almost always angry and aggressive and became more self-confident. Within a few days I found that my back was covered with pimples. What really began to cause me alarm was the noticeable testicular shrinkage that happened after the first few injections,” he said. “Then came the fevers and the chills. After two and a half weeks I started feeling unwell in general. I was almost always tired and felt weak and sick virtually all the time. By the end of the month, the steroids were making me too sick to go to the gym,” he said.
A doctor at King Abdul Aziz Hospital told Arab News: “Steroids are used in the medical profession for different reasons but mostly to suppress a patient’s immune system so that the patient does not feel the pain that occurs with inflammations such as rheumatoid arthritis. Steroids are also used locally with asthma patients. The problem with this course of treatment is that the patient’s body becomes unable to fight bacterial infections. With proper medical care and with the correct dosage combined with other medication, the side-effects are manageable but it is still considered risky due to complications that arise from having a suppressed immune system.”
After finishing his initial supply of 24 vials, Abdulilah decided to stay away from the gym and from steroids. He realized steroids were costing him not only SR1,800 but his health as well.
Deca-Durabolin has been proven to influence calcium metabolism positively and to increase bone mass. It is often used where a protein deficiency exists such as during chronic debilitating diseases and after major surgery and severe trauma. In these instances, Deca is used to support specific therapies and dietary measures during the course of medical treatment.