Originally published Dec 13, 1983
No one has to convince Stan Jones of the potential lethal effects of anabolic steroids . He saw them kill a man once.
"His name was Jay Hitchins," said the Denver Broncos defensive line coach. "He used to hang around York Barbell in Pennsylvania. I don't know how much he was taking, but it was a lot, an awful lot. He developed liver problems and the next thing you know, he's dead.
"Using that stuff is like putting high octane fuel in an engine that may not be capable of handling it. It'll go like wildfire for a while. Then all of a sudden, whammo, the whole damn thing goes. "
Opinions on anabolic steroids vary. Some believe they're a wonder drug, others think they're worthless. Some feel they're absolutely harmless, others are convinced they're a killer.
There are more suspicions than certainties about steroids . Most of the research has been inconclusive. Steroids might cause liver damage. They might cause kidney damage. They might cause high blood pressure and stroke. They might cause sterility and impotency.
"I think the side effects have reaally been overemphasized," said Dr Jerome Ciullo, director of Detroit Medical Center's sports medicine clinic and the team physician for the United States Football League's Michigan Panthers. ''When they talk about bad side effects from anabolic steroids , they're talking about cancer patients (anabolic steroids are often used in cancer treatment).
"They're not talking about the young, healthy athlete. The people I know that take them, they're all having kids. They're not sterile and all this other business they say can happen.
"I have never seen any severe side effects from steroids . I've seen some guys take as many as 15 Dianabol tablets a day and have never seen a side effect like they're talking about, like wiping out the blood cells and severe psychosis and other things. That doesn't mean they don't happen. Maybe other people have seen them. But I haven't."
"I very seldom see side effects," said Dr. Robert Kerr, a Los Angeles sports medicine specialist who claims to have written more than 10,000 prescriptions for anabolic steroids to athletes over the last 18 years. ''I've never in all that time had a patient experience a serious side effect. But we've prevented some serious side effects by finding problems by either examining the patient or looking at the laboratory tests.
"No one knows the long-term side effects of most medicines. Look at Bendectin, which was withdrawn from the market this summer. It was used for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. It was probably used for 40 years. Millions and millions of pregnant women took it. It was a very successful
"Now, they're finding that in some of their children, there's a greater chance of cancer of the bladder. Yet, every doctor who's had anything to do with pregnant women in the last 40 years has prescribed Bendectin. "
While there are differences of opinion concerning the long-term effects of anabolic steroids , there is a little more certainty about its short-term effects. Steriods have been known to cause personality changes in users, often triggering varying degrees of aggressiveness.
"I've seen it drastically change a player's personality," Jones said. ''In fact, I can think of two on our team right now where that's happened. They become very self-centered, self-oriented. And that's a disadvantage in so far as it makes them a little more anti-social in a game that's a team sport. "
Bob Young, the former All-Pro offensive liveman for the St. Louis Cardinals, took steroids for eight years. He doesn't see any danger in them if used properly.
"I used them lightly in college," Young said. "I tried them just a little before I went to pro ball. But I got a little worried about what some doctors were saying about them.
"But my brother researched them and experimented on himself. He became an expert on steroids . I let him be the guinea pig.
"If you know what you're doing, I believe ( steroids ) are safe. It's just like drinking whiskey or anything else. If you do it moderately, you're probably going to get by OK. If you overdo it, you're going to hurt yourself.
"The only guys I know who ever got in trouble from steroids were a few of the gym freeks that would take 20, 30 pills a day. One guy took 30 pills a day for four years and died. But if you take 40 aspirin a day for four years, you might die too.
"Hey, I wish they would abolish steroids all together. But as long as one guy takes it, there are going to be other guys taking it. When you've been working your tail off and another guy's got an edge on you just because of a $20 bottle of pills, you're going to go get a $20 bottle of pills too."