Support Marketplace

A pumped-up country

From the cover of "Steroid Nation" by Shaun Assael

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Scott Jagow: The end of last week, two New York doctors were sentenced for doling out illegal steroid prescriptions to thousands of people. They were paid by a New Jersey businessman to write prescriptions for people they'd never met or examined. It's the kind of thing we're starting to see more and more.

A new book delves into the pipeline of steroids in this country. It's called "Steroid Nation." The author is Shaun Assael. Shaun, we always hear about steroids in sports. How big are steroids outside of sports?

Shaun Assael: They're bigger outside of sports than they are in sports. You can take Hollywood, for instance. I mean, I'll make the argument that steroids, not cocaine, is the drug of choice in Hollywood right now, and you only have to look at some of the bodies on the screen to see that. And there's a, there's just a boom in these clinics that will promise to return your hormone levels to where they were in your 20's if you're in your, you know, late 30's, 40's or 50's. But you know, anti-aging medicine is perhaps the biggest reason steroids are so deeply in our culture right now.

Jagow: Are these products legal?

Assael: Well, they're legal under a doctor's care. So if you're a 45-year-old man like me, you know, you can just walk into any of these anti-aging clinics, pay your $10 [thousand] or $15,000 over the course of a year, and yeah -- you're legally prescribed these things. If you're a kid -- and this is another thing the book tries to, you know, point out, that it's lunacy for kids to take this stuff -- where are those kids getting it? It's an entirely different world. They're getting it from the back of their gym -- some dealer who's probably getting his raw materials from China, and doesn't know what he's getting.

Jagow: Yeah, I mean, how are the high schools dealing with this?

Assael: Well right now, there's a rush towards steroid testing -- mandatory steroid testing -- in high schools, in three states: New Jersey, Florida and Texas. The danger that I see with that is that these are elementary tests -- they're not the same tests that are used in the Olympics -- and they're easy to beat. And I worry that they're expensive, they're easy to beat, and it's not the best way to detect this. I think, you know, the best way to detect this is still for parents to know their kids, keep an eye on their kids. And that's why I'm hoping that for parents, you know, a couple of days invested in this book will allow them to talk more knowledgeably to their kids.

Jagow: We've all seen how the war on drugs has turned out. You know, is there a lesson to be learned from that as we try to tackle the steroid problem?

Assael: You know, I think that the biggest problem right now is that we have an appetite that the international pharmaceutical community is filling. And I think, you know, it's our performance-enhancing appetites that we have to sort of examine. And I do think that with respect to anti-aging medicine, it's a personal choice. And as long as it works and the government is giving us good information about whether it works or not, I see no problem with that. The government's gotta be honest and say, look, they do work in some cases -- just let's tell you the cases. I think in sports, we may want to consider, do they have a place? Is there such a thing as a therapeutic use of some of these steroids? Not to turn players into freakazoid record-breakers, but, you know, to let them get through the gruelling seasons. I just think that there's some nuance needed in the discussion that I'm not seeing right now.

Jagow: Shaun Assael, the author of "Steroid Nation." Thanks for joining us.

Assael: Thanks for having me.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...