Addiction to Pumping Iron and Juicing Leads to Massive Arrests in Houston Area and Ft. Bend County
It was billed by raiding law enforcement officials as the “largest drug operation” in Fort Bend County history. The stark, glaring headlines and the “perp walks” would lead one to believe that a violent Mexican drug cartel had just been “busted” in Fort Bend County.
But that wasn’t the case. The “drug operation,” coined Operation “Farmacia de Juicy Phruit,” involved about six dozen personal fitness trainers and body builders who sold human growth hormones, anabolic steroids, Hydrocodone, and Ecstacy in area fitness centers. The mass arrests, which included a Houston firefighter (as if the Houston Fire Department needed more adverse publicity), culminated a two-year investigation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and Fort Bend County Sheriff Milton Wright. Fifty-one of those arrested were booked on state charges while the remaining 22 were indicted on federal charges, including money laundering and conspiracy to possess, distribute and manufacture a controlled substance.
“The investigation started here with the sheriff’s office and we ended up following it to other areas where they were bringing in raw products, or were connected otherwise,” DEA special agent Zoran Yankovich told the media. “And it led us into California, Indiana, Louisiana, Georgia, and internationally where raw products were being imported from Mexico, Canada and China.”
Now the primary targets of the investigation face a 46 count federal indictment, a maximum period of incarceration of 20 years and forfeiture of all property and money traceable to their alleged crimes. A stiff price to pay for the endless pursuit of getting bigger and better.
The month of May should have been declared “steroid” month. The Fort Bend County case, which drew national media attention, was just one of a series of high profile cases involving alleged steroid use. Two of Major League Baseball’s premier athletes, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Manny Ramirez and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriquez, were linked to current and past steroid use. And the routine arrest of a Tampa, Florida couple for possession and distribution of steroids quickly gained national media prominence after one of the suspects alleged that he had sold steroids to athletes in various professional sports including the NHL’s Washington Capitals and MLB’s Washington Nationals. Even across the Atlantic in Belgium, body builders at a championship meet fled in panic after doping officials showed up to test them all for steroid use.
While drug testing has put a serious dent in the use of steroids and other performance enhancement drugs in professional sports, the same cannot be said for their use in the general population. Fitness centers have become a prime haven for the procurement and distribution of performance enhancement drugs. In fact, the word “fitness” has become in many ways a misnomer in the world of fitness. In many cases. the desire for “muscles” and “physique” has pushed aside the need for fitness and health.
As indicated by the recent mass arrests in Fort Bend County, the increasing prevalence of steroid use in the world of fitness has become an alarming problem. Inevitably, increased exposure leads to greater temptation. People visiting fitness centers who would not normally entertain the thought of using performance enhancement drugs can be tempted to “try it” by muscled-up dealers who are motivated by the profit desire inherent in drug distribution and by their own intense desire to bulk up.
But individuals considering the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs should be aware.
Anabolic steroids are powerful versions of testosterone and can have devastating effects on the liver, cardiovascular system and reproductive systems. The most serious and lasting effects of prolonged steroid use include: premature balding; dizziness; mood swings, including anger, aggression and depression; seeing or hearing hallucinations; paranoia involving extreme feelings of mistrust or fear; problems with sleeping; nausea and vomiting; trembling; high blood pressure that can damage the heart and/or blood vessels; aching joints; muscle and tendon injuries; sexual dysfunction; liver damage evidenced by jaundice or yellowing of the skin; urinary problems; and increased risks of serious heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
Many high school students or young adults who are “fitness” junkies frequently boast that they would shave off years of their life expectancy, as former Oakland Raider defensive lineman Lyle Alzado said, “to be good while young,” but they do not understand the devastating effects of steroid use. Alzado, who was a Herculean football player with no peer, died at age 43 from a cancerous brain tumor linked to steroid use when he was a young man. Steroid use gave Alzado what he wanted: a spectacular football career, international fame, and financial success while it lasted, but he died far too young as a beaten down and frail “old man” at age 43. In the waning months of his life, he warned young people against the use of steroids.
Besides the very real possibility of a premature and a quite painful early death as experienced by Lyle Alzado, young male steroid users should seriously contemplate whether they want watch their testicles shrink, endure pain when urinating, look at their own breast developing like a female, incur the embarrassment of impotence, and risk the inability to sire children and perpetuate their blood line. Young women should question whether they want to have deeper voice, an enlarged clitoris, breast and facial hair like men, and have their feminine characteristics replaced by masculine traits.
Beyond these certain serious physical consequences, there are the inevitable legal consequences associated with steroid use. While many of the 73 individuals arrested in Fort Bend County will receive probation, most of those charged and convicted with federal offenses will receive prison time. Whether probation or incarceration, all those convicted, either by guilty pleas or jury verdicts, will become “convicted felons.” These drug-related criminal convictions will undoubtedly cause them serious problems with future employment efforts. Employment opportunities that involve high degree of individual trust and responsibility will be foreclosed to them. Minimum wage and manual labor will become the only realistic job prospects in the near future for some of those convicted.
Tragically, most of these individuals are not per se “criminals.” They may not have perceived the use, or even the sale, of performance enhancement drugs as a “crime.” They were simply part of a network of people in the world of fitness willing to cheat to get a leg up on muscles and physique. They did not realize that “pumping iron” and “juicing” can become an addiction as controlling as alcoholism, and with the same personal devastating effects.
While Texas began mandatory random steroid testing for UIL student athletes in 2008, our educational system must do more than drug testing in its athletic programs. Teachers and leaders in the fitness world must create educational programs that teach students about the dangers of the use of all performance enhancement drugs. A 2007 study by the National Institute on Drug Awareness, that surveyed 48,025 students at 403 public and private schools , found that 2.2% of high school seniors reported steroid use. The fact that potentially hundreds of thousands of students are currently using these dangerous drugs begs greater attention to the problem than mere drug testing programs for student athletes.
Donald Hooton, President of the Taylor Hooten Foundation, a foundation dedicated to fighting the abuse of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs among America’s youth, tells us … “the problem of youth anabolic steroid abuse is a serious and widespread one in this country.” He says that the consensus of most studies indicate that steroid usage among the total high school population is 4-6%. This means “about three quarters of a million kids have played with his family of drugs,” says Hooten.
Outside the school system, fitness centers should “push” anti-steroid education as seriously as they do good nutrition and consistent physical activity.
Kuipers, H. (1998). Anabolic steroids: side effects. In: Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine and Science, T.D.Fahey (Editor). Internet Society for Sport Science: http://sportsci.org. 7 March 1998.
Business Wire, 2008; Steroid Use Among American Youth Alarms Health Professional: Adults Should Warn of Serious Adverse Health Affects; Reuters, March 25, 2008.
By: Houston Criminal Defense Attorney John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair