Steroids have always been a bit confusing when it comes to discussing legalities with visitors to a needle programme, but changes to the law covering steroids that come into effect from April 23rd (2012) are going to cause a major change if both the legalities and possible risks of using this group of drugs.
Ok this part isn't exactly a change, possession of steroids for personal use in the UK is already legal. But that hasn't stopped there being a couple of prosecutions for it (you see, even magistrates get confused by the uk legal system). In one case the defence even used the information on the UK governments own Frank website in it's case with no success. What is changing is removal of the words 'medicinal product' although in reality that makes no difference in the real world. Please note that because this is still a Class C drug covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act that supply of this drug to anyone else (either dealing or giving) remains a crime.
The main change though is one that will effect the bulk of UK steroid users. From April 23rd it'll be against the law to import steroids into the UK, this includes buying them from websites or other mail order services even when it's only for personal use. You will be able to travel to other countries yourself and bring your own anabolic steroids into the UK, but only for personal use.
At last week's Welsh National Drugs Conference I spoke to Martin Chandler from John Moores University about the implications of this change. Who said:
This will cause a rise in home produced products by illicitly sourced raw testosterone powders, so we'll see a rise in underground products produced in the UK, this is likely to decrease the quality and increase the risk..... and this year in particular there is a crackdown on raw materials as the government have to be seen to be preventing the importation and production of anabolic steroids prior to the Olympics.
Underground labs are nothing new in the world of steroid production of course, in fact in some cases users actually prefer products these labs make, to the point that a number of labs have their own product branding (there are even underground labs that make counterfeit steroids of other underground labs). But one thing that has to be remembered is that the hygiene and products used in these labs don't go through the same levels of quality control as pharmaceutical products do, and while some labs do test their own products this is normally only to see how strong they are, not if they have contamination. In this situation we'll have the added factor of these labs having to be rapidly set up to deal with the huge demand for these drugs in the UK; corners will undoubtedly be cut.
What this means for workers
Part of the conversations with steroid users have always been about their knowledge of the law and the sources of their steroids. Previously these have been two separate topics, but with importation being illegal this now means that for at least the next few months this becomes one discussion.
After that of course we'll start seeing the fallout from the increased underground production, at a guess this will be a rise in bacterial infections, abscesses and issues relating to variable strengths of products produced.
If you want to read more details on the wording of the changes then Millard Baker has detailed this in a great blog post over on the Think Steroids blog.
Nigel Brunsdon is the owner of Injecting Advice.com. He's been working in harm reduction since the 1990's, although he's previously a frontline needle programme worker he now spends most of his time developing online resources for drugs workers and users.