More Middle-Age Men Turn to Testosterone for an 'Edge'

Despite drug's health risks, users laud improved looks and energy boost.

September 10, 2012, 8:33 AM

Sept. 18, 2012 — -- From world-class sporting scandals in baseball and on the track, performance-enhancing drugs seem to have found a new playing field -- the office.

"It's like a secret. You don't want to let the other guy know what you know," said Oliver Power, 48, an office manager in the San Francisco Bay Area. "You know what I mean? You want to keep that edge going so guys don't talk about it too much."

Testosterone, the steroid hormone banned in sports, has quietly become the newest wonder drug for men in the workplace.

Whether it's in police departments or Fortune 500 companies, the drug is being called "Viagra for the boardroom."

Testosterone: Frequently Asked Questions

Chris Running, 57, president and CEO of Eternal Beverages in Walnut Creek, Calif., said testosterone was the fuel that kept him on top.

He said the little vial he stores in the bathroom enabled him to run four companies at once, lose 30 pounds and gain muscle, and maintain an energy and mental sharpness he hadn't felt since college.

Running gives himself a shot of the hormone in his leg twice a week.

"I think that successful business people want to be more successful," he told ABC News. "I think if they knew how effective testosterone could be for them to have even more of an edge, they'd be all over it."

Testosterone Use Booms

Running and Power, both 48, are part of an explosion in testosterone use among men older than 40.

"It's like somebody came and erased 15 years off your life," Power said.

It affects the metabolism and can lead to increased muscle mass, sex drive and can even help a man's mood but it doesn't affect everyone in the same way and it's not without controversy.

Walk-in clinics have sprung up across the country. According to Bloomberg, prescriptions for testosterone have doubled since 2006. Sales are expected to triple from $1.6 billion in 2011 to $5 billion by 2017.

But there can be serious side effects, including an increased risk of prostate cancer and liver damage, and even aggression in cases where too much testosterone is prescribed. It is the aggression side effect that is now setting off alarm bells in some of the nation's largest police departments.

Amy Brittain, a reporter for the Newark, N.J., newspaper, the Star-Ledger, uncovered that 248 police officiers and firefighters from 53 agencies were tied to a Jersey City physician giving out questionable prescriptions.

"It can basically cause you to make rash decisions, get angry," Brittain said. "It can affect you in a way that's really unpredictable and when you are talking about someone who is carrying a gun that's a pretty dangerous situation."

Through her reporting, Brittain said she found a common theme among officers: "There was almost a sense of a need to feel stronger, faster, to have a better sex drive, to feel better about yourself especially as these men and women are getting older," she said.

In his first interview since the scandal, Jersey City Police Chief Thomas Comey told ABC News that he never saw the problem coming, and that his officers were using testosterone to bulk up, all the while faced with a slew of unknown and potentially serious side effects.

"When we looked at it we determined there really was a health concern," Comey said. "We are one of the few entities sanctioned by this government to carry a weapon and potentially use deadly force. You would like to make sure that isn't impacted by a potential increase in aggression."

But his department is far from alone. ABC News found police departments nationwide, Phoenix to Portland, have begun a new series of drug tests, no longer just for marijuana and cocaine, but for testosterone and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone that diminishes with age. Even though some need a boost as they get older, a 2010 study in the New England Journal of Medicine warned that only about 2 percent of men older than 40 fell into that category.

"It's become a near epidemic proportions, what we're seeing in our clinics," said Dr. Edmund Sabanegh, the chairman of urology at the Cleveland Clinic. "Dating back into the '50s, there were fountains of youth and elixirs that were being advertised and I think it's potentially the same risk here."

Dr. Karron Power, M.D., M.P.H., said that testosterone was misunderstood.

Power is among doctors and experts who call it a life changer -- but only for men who need it. She said she'd had people who probably didn't need the hormone request it from her.

'Leveling the Playing Field'?

Experts said the problem with the hormone was that determining who needs testosterone and how much can be a very gray area. They say the normal man's testosterone range spans 1,000 points in blood tests.

Power and others bring patients up to the top end -- a level that some experts say can be too high for middle-age men.

"But if your levels are low and they bring you back to a normal level, or an optimal level, then aren't I just leveling the playing field?" Power said.

"I would say I look more ripped than I have since I was in college," Running said. "I mean, I like looking at myself in the mirror. I look freaking awesome.

"If I was marketing testosterone, I would be marketing in the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and Newsweek and Forbes," he said. "I'm completely sold. I mean I will never not do this."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events