Steroid users flood to MQI needle exchange

Eoin Harte

Steroid users account for almost one in ten people that avail of Merchant Quay Ireland’s needle exchange services.

Derek Parker, a psychiatric nurse who works for MQI, a charity that provides services for the homeless and drug users, spoke to The College View in November about his experience with steroid users in his line of work.

“So far this year we’ve dealt with 174 people coming to needle exchange for steroids. That would be just under ten per cent of all people who come for the needle exchange.”  

In 2017, 210 steroid users availed of MQI’s services and were quite unlike the majority of people who come to MQI for help.

“Most of them are in work, most drive cars, most are not from areas of social deprivation. There’s various research around the first age when they first used steroids, I think the mean was in the early twenties,” Parker said.

“The majority of people come to use our needle exchange service but they also come for advice and information around steroids themselves. We carried out a report in 2014 as part of Merchant’s Quay to highlight this as an issue because we’d seen it as a growing trend.”

Most of the drug users that come to MQI for help would be using substances such as heroin and as a result of this, a separate clinic for steroid users was considered.

“Clients that came for steroid use wanted a separate stand-alone clinic. There was a perceived hierarchy among needle exchange users. The people who were coming to our needle exchanges for steroids viewed themselves very differently than the people who were coming for other drugs, such as heroin.

“We tried to establish a stand-alone steroid clinic very much based on what we saw. We went to Glasgow to see the stand alone clinic there in the Glasgow Drug Crisis Centre, but unfortunately the uptake was very poor,” Parker stated.

MQI’s steroid clinic operated from Capel Street in the evening time, yet this didn’t suit most of those availing of their services and the stand-alone clinic had to shut down.

In recent years there has been a worrying upsurge among younger men coming to MQI for steroid advice, with many now in their twenties and some in their teens.

“We see younger people in particular, mostly younger males, adolescents who are under extreme pressure from a body image point of view. They were constantly trying to attain and achieve results that they see in magazines, they see online and on TV.

“Obviously that has an impact on their self-esteem and also they see that they can try and reach those goals, which may be unachievable for them,” Parker explained.

MQI provides these users with clean needles, in an effort to lesson the chance of them contracting diseases, but providing users with information on injecting advice and the substances they are taking is also a major focus.

“One of the issues we have is if people are in big groups of people that are using steroids there can be a lot of misinformation. One of the goals that we have in our needle exchange when we trained our staff for steroids was to improve the level and the knowledge that people are getting around steroid use.”

Steroids can be obtained in a number of ways, with many users getting the illegal substances from friends, personal trainers and online sites that sell anabolic steroids. As they are illegal in Ireland and throughout much of the world, counterfeit products are a common concern.

“A lot of steroids are bought online and are generally not pharmaceutical grade. Pharmaceutical grade steroids are few and far between, people seem to be getting them from friends or colleagues or through the internet, where they could be being made in an underground lab that is unhygienic. There could be real problems around what’s actually in the vial.”

“People at times would have access to veterinary steroids which aren’t for human consumption and shouldn’t be used by humans. Then also I think a real risk is people buying steroids online are getting the counterfeit ones. You can pretty much be sure that what’s on the label is not what’s in the vial.”

Harmful physical side effects aside, the use of anabolic steroids can also have detrimental effects on users’ mental health. The stereotype that steroid users are overly aggressive is based in some fact, but anxiety and depression can also be caused by steroid use.

“Roid rage or aggressive behaviour I think is less common than having low mood or developing depression.”

“They’re off cycle and their testosterone is in their boots, their mood is low. A lot of the goals they have around body image and self esteem, being off cycle and having say, a reduced libido, erectile dysfunction. These are actual physical symptoms which are the exact opposite of what they were hoping to achieve.”

MQI take a non-judgmental approach with people that come to them for advice and help users with any personal issues they might have.

“I remember meeting one guy in particular who was very low because he wasn’t putting on the mass he thought he should be and he got very negative. It turned out he was using counterfeit steroids, and he hadn’t made positive changes to his diet and workout regime,” Parker said.

The use of anabolic steroids is a growing issue in Ireland. The Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) in conjunction with the Garda Siochana and Revenue’s Custom Service detained 449,411 dosage units of illegal anabolic steroids in 2017. This is a significant rise from the 39,045 units detained in 2015.

Eoin Harte

Image Credit: Dublin Live