Steroid Sting Fallout: Epidemic of Abuse

After a recent series of raids uncovered illegally produced steroids by the barrel full, ABC News has learned that the alleged underground labs might have had as many as 30,000 to 40,000 customers.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says it has identified those alleged clients of the thriving multi-million-dollar black market industry through e-mails and credit card purchase records obtained during the course of the investigation.

Law enforcement agents discovered steroids, human growth hormone and other drugs at 56 clandestine labs across the United States as part of a two-year operation that culminated with a massive sweep earlier this fall. Officials say the caches could have supplied more than 11 million individual doses of the drugs.

Additionally, investigators say they seized $6.5 million during the operation.

"People are using this stuff in huge amounts, and other people are making a lot of money on that abuse," DEA spokesman Rusty Payne told ABC News.

"We see in an investigation like this how much money can be made," he said. "That's the motivation for what these people are doing."

Dealers utilized underground Web sites, chat rooms and message boards to market the steroids. The drugs were typically bought online, by credit card, and then mailed or shipped to the buyer's home.

'Athletes at Every Level'

Authorities said the goal of steroid users is often simple -- to gain a competitive advantage.

"I think you have a lot of weekend warriors, a lot of body builders," Payne said of typical steroid users, but there are also "athletes at every level -- professional, college, high school."

"High school girls are taking steroids now to look better, to get more tone -- in some cases, to get that athletic edge as well," he added.

And steroid traffickers often don't fit the profile of the stereotypical drug dealer. Last March in East Hanover, Pa. police arrested a body builder who also served as a volunteer football coach for a local high school for illegally manufacturing steroids.

'The Desire to Win'

The father of a teen who used steroids says it was the allure of a greater athletic prowess caused his son to start taking the drugs after a coach told him he needed to get bigger and stronger to excel at baseball.

Don Hooton says his son Taylor, only 17 years old at the time, began using illegal steroids because of a combination of factors, from the desire to emulate the successes of professional athletes, to "peer pressure, the desire to win, mom and dad pushing the kids, in a good way, but to make a starting line-up, to try to earn that scholarship," Hooton explained.

Taylor's Tragic End

But Taylor Hooton's case ended in tragedy, after the steroid apparently triggered deep depression.

"His mom found him hanging on the bedroom door after committing suicide," Don Hooton recalled. "He was a good kid and we miss him terribly. It's just a completely totally senseless, useless waste of a fine young man."

"These kids like Taylor are the achievers. They are taking steroids not to get high," Hooton said. "They are taking them because they think it is a pathway, a panacea to success, to the starting line-up, to winning, to getting the scholarship."

Don Hooton started a foundation in his son's memory in 2004, with the goal of stamping out the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

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