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"Following a huge amount of publicity about the theft," says Dr. Harvey Guyda, a Montreal endocrinologist who administers the growth-hormone program at Children's Hospital, "the police received an anonymous tip which led to the recovery of all 714 bottles. I hope the thieves were moved by the plight of the children who need the growth hormone, but I also realize the public outcry and the widespread search for the bottles may have made the drugs simply too hot to safely unload."
The demand for hGH doesn't come only from athletes in Olympic sports. A strength coach who wishes to remain anonymous and who's associated with a big university, admits to having used hGH and having supplied it to athletes. He also maintains that GH is or has been used by at least 60 NCAA, NFL and USFL football players in his immediate area alone.
Lately, the problem of limited supply has been met at least partly by black marketeers through the sale of "monkey juice" or "gorilla juice," a nonhuman form of growth hormone supposedly reconstituted from the pituitaries of rhesus monkeys (sometimes the dealers claim the GH is derived from other primates). But as the demand has increased, more and more local dealers have been clamoring for gorilla juice, which is often only half as expensive as hGH.
Not long ago, a young athlete took primate growth hormone, or so he thought, before an international competition in his sport. Fearful of drug testing, the athlete had decided to refrain for two months from using any of the standard anabolic steroids or testosterone, but did use the primate GH (or what he thought was primate GH). He was being supplied with growth hormone by a dealer in Dayton, who assured him it was the real thing, even though another dealer had told the athlete that the GH coming from Dayton was bogus. Yet when the athlete called to check, he reports he was again reassured by the dealer that, "It was fresh, that it was a new batch and the gorilla had just been killed."
The athlete believed in the dealer—who is himself a competing athlete—who apparently believed the man who supplied him. On the face of things, of course, the idea that one of the handful of gorillas in captivity in the U.S. was killed so an athlete could possibly enjoy a fractional improvement in performance is ludicrous. Yet grown men believed exactly this, so ecstatic were they at the thought of the strength that would be produced with a few injections of gorilla juice.
In any event, the athlete found out a few weeks later that the GH wasn't as advertised. To his dismay, the urinalysis at the competition revealed that he had apparently injected instead a large amount of an anabolic steroid with the trade name of Decadurabolin—a steroid well known to world-class athletes as the worst thing to take before a drug test because it's so easily detected. In this case the athlete was given an 18-month suspension from international competition and is contrite, maintaining that he is finished with all such substances. But regardless of such suspensions, other athletes in other sports are being drawn to hGH as a possible way to add size and power and still beat the drug tests.
Interestingly, some bodybuilders and lifters at the top of their sports have recently been cutting back on GH or even eliminating it altogether in the belief that it's overrated. At this point it's unclear whether this belief is based on well-grounded evidence or on reports from people who've been using not hGH but some ineffective form of the drug such as a bovine growth hormone imported from Paris by certain aggressive American dealers.
Still, it's likely that once companies such as San Francisco's Genentech, which uses recombinant DNA techniques, are able to get genetically engineered hGH approved by the FDA, there will be a marked increase in availability, lower prices—and increased usage. When—and, indeed, if—that will happen isn't easy to predict; the testing procedures used to determine the safety and effectiveness of the drug have continued to reveal problems related to the antibodies produced by synthetic GH. But Genentech is persisting in its efforts to create an acceptable product, and this persistence, according to some endocrinologists, may have its darker side.
Guyda, the Montreal endocrinologist and head of the Medical Research Council Therapeutic Trial of Human Growth Hormone, maintains that "there don't seem to be enough of the sort of GH-deficient children we treat to justify the kind of expenditure Genentech has made. To recoup this huge investment, new markets will be required, and those markets, coupled with the capacity GH has to do mischief of the sort seen in acromegaly, are what worry us." Genentech says it will supply the drug only for medically approved use. But because of the growing interest in the sports community and the availability of physicians willing to write the necessary prescriptions, that is a commitment that may prove difficult to honor.
In the meantime, the health-food industry is attempting to make a case that the body's production of hGH can be naturally and safely enhanced in a variety of ways, including the ingestion of certain combinations of amino acids such as lysine, arginine and ornithine, all of which are sold legally over the counter in products like TrimTrone and Slim & Firm. The FDA says this isn't the case.