Calls have been made for increased Garda enforcement against the importation of illegal performance enhancing drugs because of the rise in health related illnesses.
HSE figures show that the number of emergency inpatient cases related to steroid use has more than doubled in the past six years from 174 in 2011 to 398 last year.
Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said that anabolic steroids used to increase muscle mass accounted for half of all medicines seized last year.
“There is a need to deal with it as both a health and a justice matter. We need to recognise that it is an issue because these substances are being sold in gyms and on the black market. It’s not a matter just for health or just for justice but for both.”
The Dublin Fingal TD said the condition of muscle dysmorphia is on the rise, where a person becomes obsessively focused on not being muscular enough.
Ms O’Reilly said it affected more men than women and should be tackled. “We are all having conversations about how men behave but we must also consider how men view themselves and what can be done in that regard.”
Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA), which regulates medicinal products and is under the remit of the Department of Health, had initiated 10 prosecutions between 2014 and 2017.
“Of those, seven resulted in a guilty plea or a conviction, two in 2015 and five this year. The remaining three cases are pending court hearings.”
Mr Flanagan added that An Garda Síochána and the Revenue’s customs service, working with the HPRA, seized almost 500,000 anabolic steroid dosage units in tablet and capsule forms last year, compared to just over 100,000 units in 2016.
Ms O’Reilly said the Department of Justice and An Garda Síochána’s role was in tackling the importation and sale of illegal substances.
“More needs to be done to stop the drugs being sold in gyms and sports clubs.” She said the inspection of gyms and clubs might not be credible but like many other products, it is best to catch it at wholesale level when these products are being imported and before they are sold on to retailers.
The Minister said An Garda Síochána were proactive in dealing with drug-related crime using intelligence-led operations and this work “fits neatly” into the work of the Minister for health and the strategy to reduce harm and support recovery.
In October the HPRA launched an information campaign, Zero Gains, in conjunction with the Department of Health warning of the dangers of using anabolic steroids without a prescription.
Chief executive of the HPRA Lorraine Nolan said at the launch that the side effects of anabolic steroid use included heart failure, liver issues, kidney damage, and infertility as well as acne and hair loss.
Mr Flanagan said his department and An Garda Síochána would continue to prioritise this as an issue using the criminal justice “deterrent factor”.