by Christian Edwards
SYDNEY, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Australia's cloak and dagger love affair with steroids is ringing alarm bells as "ripped" young men congregating in city gymnasiums abuse the drug in growing numbers.
Released on Friday, an Australian study of deaths involving the drugs has highlighted that steroid abuse is now directly linked with increased risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy young men.
The drugs leave catastrophic damage in the body, according to Professor Shane Darke, lead researcher of a team that has investigated steroid-related deaths in and around Sydney.
Darke insists that it's simply not true that steroids are a healthy body-building supplement.
Steroid abusers who take other drugs are at particular risk of dying from heart disease, according to the study by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center (NDARC) at the University of NSW (UNSW) and the NSW Department of Forensic Medicine.
Researchers at the NDARC examined 24 steroid-related deaths, all men aged 22-48 years, in NSW between 1996 and 2012. They found all but one took other drugs as well as steroids.
The NDARC noted the findings added to emerging evidence that steroid users are often poly-drug users and that steroid and psycho-stimulant use may damage the heart.
"Nearly all of the 24 deceased men that we examined in this study showed the classic signs of steroid abuse, such as overdeveloped muscles and testicular atrophy," Darke said.
The NSW Health Department said the results getting from illegal steroids are disputable - but one thing is irrefutable: steroids are not safe.
The department said, "While it is true that many of the risks and side effects associated with using anabolic steroids have been exaggerated by some health professionals, sporting bodies, the media and handbooks, not all steroids will cause the same side effects."
"Different drugs cause different side effects at different doses. However, every time you use another steroid, increase the steroid dose and the longer you use steroids, the more chance you have of getting more side effects."
"Ironically many steroid users are also keen health and fitness enthusiasts and this is borne out by our sample, which included personal trainers, body builders and security guards."
But the vast majority of users are unaware of the health dangers of their lifestyle.
"Cardiovascular disease, particularly in such young people, signifies the very opposite of good health," Darke said.
He added that many young male users are in danger of reproductive health issues attributable to testicular atrophy.
Among the psychoactive drugs detected were psychostimulants ( present in 66.7 percent of cases), followed by benzodiazapines ( 45.8 percent ), opioids (37.5 percent ) and alcohol (25 percent ).
Psycho-stimulant toxicity was the direct cause of death in eight of the 24 deaths and opioid overdose was the direct cause in seven. Over half of the cases (54 percent) showed evidence of recent injecting drug use.
Toxicology results showed testosterone was the most commonly used steroid among the 24 men. Two thirds of the men were employed at their time of death.
Yet, despite a rash of high-profile steroid incidents in recent years, including the death of a well-known bodybuilder on an apparent steroid holiday in Thailand, the popularity and availability of steroids in Australia continues to grow.
A 2013 survey found that one in every 50 Australian men aged between 20 and 29 say they've been offered the opportunity to buy the drugs in the past year. Enditem