Steroid abuse: ‘I hated my body. I had to do something about it’

‘RTÉ Investigates – Steroid Ireland’ leaves no stone unturned, no kilo unburned

"I'm 19 and I'm taking steroids," admits an articulate young man called Killian, early in RTÉ Investigates: Steroid Ireland (RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.30pm), a report into the illegal trade in anabolic steroids in Ireland and the social pressures that create its market.

“I hated my body,” Killian continues. “I couldn’t look myself in the mirror, so I had to do something about it.” That involved acquiring steroids at the age of 17, and putting on close to 20 kilos of muscle in about a year. He still displays his “transformation photo” online, from a pale kid with puppy fat to a primped and preening behemoth. His transformation is as impressive as a comic book and just as unnatural: The Incredible Bulk.

Reporter Barry O’Kelly leaves no stones unturned, or kilos unburned, in this investigation into an epidemic of steroid use in Ireland.

That, however, involves bulking up the programme, a little unnecessarily, with various sting operations and undercover cameras.

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Why? The culture is already brazenly conspicuous. "Once you start posting on Instagram you want to get bigger, get more 'likes',"

Killian explains. Steroids, like addictive substances, enslave the user: “You feel strong, you feel nobody push you,” enthuses one Eastern European body builder called Ramy. If you stop, he adds, “you feel like Spongebob”.

In the sad case of Mark Egan, told by his widow, Sarita, the family man became dependent on steroids in search of a better physique for his wedding day. He died a different character, by suicide, following a torment of psychotic and paranoid episodes. No transformation photo could capture the extreme gulf between before and after.

In secretly filming fitness instructors and personal trainers who readily supply these drugs, O’Kelly’s investigation might simply never end. “We’d be very careful with who we’re dealing with,” one instructor tells him, as the hidden camera peers up attentively to contradict him.

Scandalously operating out of a vitamin and health supplement shop operated by an equally incautious body builder, both men are filmed at length openly discussing their “business”. “That’s easy f**king money, that is,” says the body builder.

The other revelation of the programme is how little fines or censure work as a deterrent. One man, previously named in a Sporting Ireland investigation for supplying a prohibited substance, is filmed still peddling the same steroids.

"It's a cost of business," Prof Brendan Buckley says of the fines. That ought to tell you everything you need to know about the reliability of the market.

So what are the solutions to this steroid epidemic? Adequate enforcement of the law, offers Prof Buckley. Better education about its consequences for young people, says almost everyone else.

But the example of one man, James Fennelly, hints at something more radical. Fennelly's nadir came on The Late Late Show, asked to lift a car on live television as Ireland's Strongest Man. "It was car crash stuff," he says, referring to his mental state at the time, rather than the segment. He resigned himself to quit drugs immediately after.

The Late Late Show may be an even more potent intervention than RTÉ Investigates.