Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs
Recently, a significant number of Aussie athletes and sporting teams have been called in to question for their choices surrounding the use of performance or image enhancing drugs (PIEDs). It’s an issue that has made front-page news, for all of the wrong reasons.
PIEDs are substances taken by people who would like to change their physical appearance, enhance their sporting performance, or both. There are a few different types of PIEDs, including anabolic steroids, peptides, and hormones.
As these substances become increasingly normalised within the fitness industry, more and more people are using PIEDs, many of them not identifying this practice as substance misuse.
So, what are PIEDs, why are they becoming a health concern for communities, and importantly, what can your club to do help?
What are the different types of PIEDs?
The most commonly used PIEDs in Australia are anabolic-androgenic steroids. These are synthetic hormones that imitate male sex hormones, namely testosterone, and they can either be injected or taken as a tablet.
Peptides stimulate the release of human growth hormone, which has an important role in muscle and bone growth. Peptides have become increasingly popular as they are more difficult to detect due to how quickly they are absorbed by the body.
Hormones are chemicals naturally released by the body, and there are numerous artificial hormones and hormone stimulating drugs available in the PIEDs market.
PIED use in Australia
PIEDs have been increasingly popularised in Australia among fitness and bodybuilding enthusiasts leading to a shift away from them being predominantly used among professional bodybuilders and athletes.
Approximately 0.6% of Australians have used steroids in their lifetime for non-medical purposes, a figure that has doubled from 0.3% in 2004.
What are some of the key risks associated with PIED use?
As with any drug, there is no safe level of use when it comes to PIEDs. All drugs carry some level of risk.
And while there is a wide variety of PIEDs, similarly there is a wide variety and differing levels of harm associated with them. There are very few shared harms for all PIEDs.
Common side-effects of PIED use will vary between individuals, but the negative impacts may affect physical, psychological and/or wellbeing. The harmful effects will depend on the particular PIEDs taken, how much and how often the drug is taken, and the physiological characteristics of the person.
Injected PIEDs have additional risks due to the harms associated with the use of needles. These include infection, transmission of disease through needle sharing, and problems associated with incorrect injecting technique.
For club members, using PIEDs illegally in a sporting environment can lead to significant club or league sanctions, isolating users who often lose their place within a club or community. This can impact significantly on the health and wellbeing of the user.
Are PIEDs illegal?
It is illegal to manufacture, import, possess, use or supply steroids without a prescription or medical practitioner’s licence in all states and territories in Australia.
Steroid use is banned in competitive sport, and when an athlete tests positive for these substances, they can be fined, suspended or permanently banned.
How can my club help?
The best way clubs can help to protect their members from the negative effects of PIEDs, is to nurture a positive and inclusive environment that focuses on all the best parts of community sport. Set clear expectations about what is an is not acceptable and consider including where your club stands on PIEDs use in your health and wellbeing policy.
As PIEDs use becomes more and more normalised, people who use these substances are less likely to seek professional help with respect to common side effects that have short and long-term harms. Because of this, clubs should also be encouraged to share information about PIEDs with their members. Use the ASADA educational resources and programs to get started.
Members shouldn’t feel pressured to go to extreme levels for their team. A true winning culture is one that promotes health and wellbeing, and celebrates each team member’s differences and strengths.
It’s also important to remind your members of the laws and regulations around accessing and using PIEDs. Steroid use is banned in many competitive sports and testing positive for steroids can result in fines, suspensions or permanent bans.
How can I get help or learn more?
If you think you might need help, or are looking to support a loved one or teammate, contact DrugInfo for confidential advice.