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March 17, 2008
Athletes who take performance-improving drugs make all the headlines. But the culture of personal physical enhancement has pushed the use of steroids and HGH everywhere—from Hollywood to the music industry to your next-door neighbor who doesn't want to grow old. Don't blame only the jocks
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March 17, 2008

The Real Dope: It's Not Just Sports

Athletes who take performance-improving drugs make all the headlines. But the culture of personal physical enhancement has pushed the use of steroids and HGH everywhere—from Hollywood to the music industry to your next-door neighbor who doesn't want to grow old. Don't blame only the jocks

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FEW SEGMENTS of society depend as heavily on physical appearance as Hollywood, and it turns out that Sylvester Stallone, who may one day give us Rambo: The Assisted-Living Years, needed more than one-handed pushups and raw eggs at dawn to stay cut. Last May in Australia the 61-year-old Stallone paid $10,600 to settle a charge of criminal drug possession after he was found to have 48 vials of HGH and several vials of testosterone. Stallone has since acknowledged that he takes HGH and testosterone regularly, and legally. "Everyone over 40 years old would be wise to investigate it [HGH and testosterone use] because it increases the quality of your life," Stallone told TIME last month.

Adds a prominent Hollywood plastic surgeon, who requested anonymity because he has many clients in the industry, "If you're an actor in Hollywood and you're over 40, you are doing HGH. Period. Why wouldn't you? It makes your skin look better, your hair, your fingernails, everything."

Chuck Zito—former Hells Angel, former bodyguard to the stars, former Hollywood stuntman and beefcake extra, former sinister presence on HBO's Oz—was an enthusiastic steroid and HGH user for three years during his acting days earlier this decade. "It's just something everybody did," says Zito, "and they're still doing it. It's ridiculous that we only talk about it in sports. You think these actors who suddenly get big for a movie, then go back to normal get like that by accident? You put 30 pounds of muscle on and you expect everybody to believe that just happened?"

While we affect that same "I'm shocked, shocked" response to steroid and HGH use that Captain Renault did to reports of gambling in Casablanca, steroids are all over the culture. Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, a documentary about steroid use, was well received at this year's Sundance Film Festival. You might suspect that a football player on NBC's Friday Night Lights would dip into the steroid pool—Smash, the star running back, turned to them after a bad game in a 2006 episode—but if you watched the Lifetime movie Love Thy Neighbor, you also saw a young soccer-playing girl accused of using Winstrol, a popular anabolic steroid. In 1994 Ben Affleck starred in a made-for-TV movie called A Body to Die For: The Aaron Henry Story. After taking PEDs in an effort to bulk up and make his high school football team, Affleck/Aaron suffers a bad case of 'roid rage, losing his hair and developing acne. Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn in the Spider-Man movies brought 'roid rage to a new level when he transmogrified into the Green Goblin. Search for steroids and HGH on the Internet Movie Database website and dozens of movies and TV episodes pop up.

It's uncertain whether hip-hop artists will find the irony amusing, but PEDs seem to be a part of life among the police as well. In a 2007 probe the names of 27 New York City officers and at least two dozen from the Jersey City force were found among those who purchased HGH or steroids. (None has been charged.) The prosecutor's office in Mercer County, New Jersey, is investigating a group of officers, mostly from Trenton, who are accused of illegally buying HGH. The investigation prompted the Trenton department to draft a policy to follow when it suspects an officer of using PEDs.

Gene Sanders, a police psychologist in Spokane, has estimated that 25% of officers in urban settings take steroids, many as a defense against street criminals. "How do I deal with people who are in better shape than me and want to kill me?" Sanders told ABC News as a way of explaining steroid use by the thin blue line.

Steroids may also be a major part of prison culture. And not just on one side of the bars. In a story that would be humorous if it weren't so ugly, Florida's then secretary of prisons, over a two-year period beginning in 2006 fired 90 people, most of them guards, for infractions that included the importation and sale of steroids for the primary purpose of beefing up for interdepartmental softball games. There were also postgame orgies. All in all, it sounds like the makings of a Cinemax movie.

More than softball is at stake in an ongoing civil case against Blackwater, the controversial security firm that supplies private guards to protect U.S. officials in Iraq. A lawsuit filed in November alleges that one quarter of Blackwater's guards take steroids and that the use of such "judgment-altering substances" was a factor in at least two incidents in which Iraqi civilians were killed. "Not to belittle the importance of steroid abuse in sports," says Susan Burke, the lead counsel for family members of civilians who were killed, "but this is an instance in which it may have led to death. It's obvious that when people have guns and their jobs involve being armed, it's critical to ensure that they are not on steroids." Blackwater says that steroids are not tolerated among its personnel. Meanwhile, a 2007 U.S. military police raid of the living quarters of a similar firm in Iraq, Crescent Security Group, turned up steroids.

AT THE HEART of the incessant hunt for PEDs in sports is the message that the President was conveying in his State of the Union speech: Kids who hear about pro athletes using performance-enhancing drugs will use them too. It is always about our nation's youth, as if that were one heterogeneous group that marches in lockstep, buying its steroids and its Will Ferrell movie tickets in bulk.

The assumption that kids blindly emulate their sports stars is not just simplistic, it's also wrong. In a poll of teenagers commissioned by SI last month, 99% of the respondents said they would not use steroids just because a pro athlete does. Other studies have consistently shown that the majority of kids who use PEDs do so to enhance their looks, not to bowl over a free safety at the goal line or get something extra on their fastball.

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