Tuesday, August 02, 2005

An Army of Andro

Ask, and ye shall be answered--last night I was half paying attention to Nightline, which found time to report on--the horror--Rafael Palmeiro--I began to wonder if steroid use/abuse might have found its way into Operation Rich Kids Don't Serve. Today, Cursor has the answer:

Italian police seized 215,000 doses of prohibited substances as they broke up a ring that supplied steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to customers around the world, including American soldiers in Iraq, a police official said Monday.

The U.S. military there had no immediate comment, but steroid abuse has long been discussed as an issue in Iraq, where American troops and contractors work out in gyms on military bases and even in the mirrored halls of one of Saddam Hussein's former palaces.

Joseph Donahue, program director for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, who spent 16 months in Iraq — often lifting weights in the gyms of Baghdad's Green Zone — said steroids were available to those who wanted them.

"I had them offered to me by an Iraqi guy who sure … looked like he was using them," Donahue said. "There were guys I'm pretty sure were juicing, but not a lot of them."

Private security contractors said steroid use was a problem among their employees in Iraq because the drugs were so readily available there — as easy to buy as a soda, according to one contractor.

Earlier today I turned to google--using the search phrase "steroids U.S. military," I found this:

U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan submit to regular drug tests, but
are not routinely tested for steroid use, a potential problem that
surfaced recently after Italian police busted an international drug
smuggling ring whose prospective clients included U.S. troops in Iraq.

Even while deployed to a combat zone, the services follow the general
Defense Department practice of randomly testing 10 percent of a
military unit's members each month for drugs such as marijuana,
cocaine, heroin, and barbiturates, and designer drugs such as
Ecstasy, representatives from each of the services said.

But testing for steroids is done only when commanders specifically
request it, and to date, none have, said Col. Aaron Jacobs, chief
deputy medical examiner at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology's
Forensic Toxicology office in Washington.

Sounds like the drug ring in Italy is the same one referenced in the LA Times piece, although the dateline is a week earlier.

I point this out not so much to wag a finger at either athletes or soldiers, but to note the odd dichotomy: athletes doping up merit screaming headlines (hell, Contains No News made Palmeiro a top story yesterday), but the not-so-surprising revelation that soldiers are juiced barely gets mentioned at all. I'm guessing that, should this somehow get wider notice, there will suddenly be any number of people defending steroid use/abuse by the military.

Now, to be honest, soldiers might actually HAVE a reason to bulk up--after all, combat ain't beanbag. However, if the scientific studies of steroid use are accurate, the short term gain resulting from such use will have long term negative consequences...I know, I know--in combat, there are short term hazards FAR more dangerous than 'roids. But, unless you're EXPECTING that soldiers won't come back (i.e., you think/hope they get killed), some effects of steroid use might concern you--particularly aggressive or violent behavior.

Then there are unknown factors, such as: what are the effect of steroid use and, say, exposure to Depleted Uranium? What about 'roids, DU, and the host of other pills and injections soldiers routinely receive as part of their deployment? I doubt anyone knows.

Finally, suppose steroid use proves to be effective in the short term for soldier use, i.e., bulked up grunts perform better in the field? I wouldn't put it above the army to put such short term considerations over the long term health of enlistees. And it's not like the military hasn't used "performance enhancing drugs," even as questions remain about how effective they really are.

And, as I've said before, I certainly hope no one returning from the Iraqi debacle of the 21st century decides to react like Tim McVeigh or John Allan Mohammed--but I don't think such a reaction can be ruled out, particularly if an individual not only feels the sting of Bush's stingy policies towards veterans but also has to deal with the effect of steroid use/withdrawal.

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