Young Athletes Turn to Sometimes Harmful Strength Supplements

Congress will hear near-death experiences in testimony from athletes today.

Sept. 29, 2009— -- Athletes are constantly under pressure to become stronger and faster and many turn to strength supplements they ordered online. But, in an effort to crack down on the industry, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hear testimony today from young men and women detailing their near-death experiences with these seemingly harmless supplements.

Sports supplements make up a $2 billion industry that continues to grow. The Internet is saturated with ads and Web sites promising athletes results that sometimes seem too good to be true.

Jareem Gunter, 26, was looking for a competitive edge in baseball and he was not alone, he said.

"I believe around 90 percent of players or more take some kind of supplement," Gunter said.

During his first year of playing college baseball, Gunter took Superdrol, a substance that promised a dramatic increase in strength.

"I did research for three to four weeks to make sure I wasn't taking anything that could harm me," Gunter said.

But Superdrol apparently harmed Gunter and he ended up in the hospital one month later because his body had shut down from severe liver failure.

"This was on a Sunday," Gunter said. "And [the doctor] said if I had waited until Tuesday … I could have been dead."

Superdrol contains methasterone, a potentially dangerous substance that acts like testosterone once it is in a person's body.

"Methasterone has long been known to be and act like an anabolic steroid," ABC News medical contributor Dr. Marie Savard said. "So, in a way, it doesn't sound like testosterone, doesn't sound like a hormone, but it is. It has all those dangerous effects that wreak havoc with a young child's hormone levels."

Hoping to Crack Down on Illegal Steroids

The company that sold Superdrol is now out of business but the drug and other designer steroids continue to be sold in stores and on the Web as pressure on young athletes continues to grow. Nearly five percent of all teenagers have admitted to some kind of steroid use and Internet sales for strength supplements have increased 50 percent.

"All you need is a credit card and a computer," Travis Tybolt of the United States Anti-Doping Agency said. "The smart chemists out there and the evil chemists out there are exploiting the loophole that allows these to be sold."

The result is that many parents and coaches want to promote a "no-substance" policy. The dietary supplement industry also want to crack down on these substances that could tarnish the industry's reputation.

"It is a crime to sell illegal steroids, and anyone caught doing this ought to get the book thrown at them," Daniel Fabricant of the Natural Products Association said in a statement. "We're glad the Congress is looking into this, because anything we can do to separate the legal, safe and healthy dietary supplement industry from the seedy, fly-by-night, and unsafe world of illegal steroids is worthwhile."