LONDON, April 11: Illegal drug use in both professional and amateur sports is much more widespread and entrenched than doctors and most people realise, according to a report launched Thursday.

Up to 60,000 bodybuilders, athletes and fitness enthusiasts in London and as many as 150,000 across Britain are using anabolic steroids at dangerous dosages to enhance their physique and improve performance.

The long-term effects of the substances are still unknown but doctors fear they could cause mini epidemics of heart disease, strokes and liver tumours in the coming decades.

“It is a deeply entrenched and complex phenomenon,” Dr Ivan Waddington, of Leicester University, told a news conference.

Although the report “Drugs in Sport” deals with the problem in Britain, Waddington said it reflects what is happening in most industrialised countries.

“The pattern is broadly similar in western Europe, America and Canada in relation to elite sports and gymnasia,” he said.

From Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s failed drug test at the 1988 Seoul Olympics to the revelations of doping in the 1998 Tour de France or the loss of Scottish skier Alain Baxter’s bronze medal after a positive test for a stimulant earlier this year, drugs in sports is not a new problem.

It dates back to the 3rd century BC when ginseng and sheep testicles were used to improve athletic ability, but it has escalated since the 1930s with the use of amphetamines, anabolic agents and growth hormones, and spread from Olympic playing fields to gyms and fitness centres.

Nearly 50 percent of British athletes questioned in the Sports Council survey felt that drug use was a problem in their sport. The number rose to 83 percent for track and field.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the head of ethics and science at the British Medical Association, said performance enhancing drugs that can be obtained on the internet through illegal imports and other sources are extremely potent and can cause heart disease, stroke and liver tumours after long-term use.

“These drugs are potentially lethal and people using them are risking their lives,” she said. “It is a public health problem because the numbers are so large.

The report called for policy makers to develop a more tailored response to the problem of doping in sport with full support from governments and sporting bodies at the domestic and international levels.

Tighter controls should be considered on the supply of drugs where their therapeutic use is limited, such as human growth hormones.

It also said the merits of a drug passport scheme should be evaluated and tested in a pilot programme and further research is also needed into the motives for drug use and the long-term consequences.—Reuters

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