Imagine walking into your local GNC or logging on to your favorite online supplement store and finding it virtually empty. The shelves are bare except for the few remaining legally available supplements: vitamins and protein powder. Even creatine is available only by prescription and at five times what you used to pay for it when it was "legal." Prohormones and effective fat burners? Not even produced any more. Legislated out of existence. Banned in the U.S.A.
Is this just a bad dream? No. The truth is that the situation described above could be a reality in just a few short years. No, this is not a scare tactic used to make you buy more supplements, but I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that many insiders are stocking up on their favorites already. The threat is that real.
This nightmare began not with dietary supplements but with steroids. Now, most average people on the street couldn't care less that steroids were criminalized and put on the DEA's list of Schedule III controlled substances. A person who's not interested in steroids probably wouldn't have much sympathy for a juicer who gets carted off to jail for illegally importing D-bol. But remember, using steroids didn't used to be a crime and it's still not a crime in many countries. However, misinformed media and politicians with hidden agendas succeeded in convincing most people that steroids were pure evil and those who used them were dangerous drug addicts.
Still don't care? Well, today, the exact same tactics are being used to get rid of something you may care about: your right to use dietary supplements. Right now, there are politicians and special interests groups whose main goal is to keep you from purchasing muscle building and fat burning supplements. Maybe one day you'll be carted off to jail for importing ephedrine or prohormones when those same politicians turn you into a felon by banning those safe and effective supplements. It could happen. Correction: It is happening.
Luckily, many supplement manufacturers are banding together to fight this trend. The movement was started by Rick Collins, the man once known as the "steroid lawyer" and author of the book Legal Muscle: Anabolics in America. Rick's a New York lawyer and former competitive bodybuilder who's built his reputation bridging the gap between the legal community and the bodybuilding world. He's been recognized as America's foremost legal expert on muscle-building substances and is the founder of steroidlaw.com.
Rick is also General Counsel for the United Supplement Freedom Association, Inc. (USFA), a coalition dedicated to the preservation of over-the-counter dietary supplements, including prohormones. T-mag's Tim Patterson is a trustee of the USFA and Biotest is a major contributor.
Rick is fighting the good fight to keep your favorite dietary supplements legally available. Testosterone sat down to talk with Rick recently and here's what he had to say.
T-mag: Rick, give us a synopsis of what's going on right now in Washington concerning sports supplements.
Rick Collins: It's a bad scene. Negative press reports about ephedra are having a spillover effect on all sports supplements. Congress is buzzing. They're now talking about holding more hearings on supplements in sports. The Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has sent letters to both the FDA and the DEA questioning the "drug classification of designer steroids," so-called pro-steroids.
T-mag: What bills are pending at this time?
RC: Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate that would take a variety of products off the market. One bill would permit the Attorney General to turn "steroid precursor" products into controlled substances – a class that's supposed to be reserved only for dangerous, addictive drugs of abuse.
T-mag: Sounds like MAG-10, 4-AD-EC would go bye-bye if that bill was passed, not to mention DHEA and any other "andro" type supplement. What's the other bill?
RC: The other would re-define "anabolic steroid" to make certain products fit the definition based on advertising claims, regardless of their actual anabolic properties. Meanwhile, someone else in the Senate is working on his own bill to outlaw prohormones and pro-steroids. There's plenty going on.
T-mag: Besides not having access to effective supplements, why should the average bodybuilder be concerned?
RC: Because our freedom is at stake. At the Attorney General's discretion, millions of health-conscious bodybuilders could be dragged into the federal criminal justice system for the mere possession of popular dietary supplements re-labeled "anabolic steroids." People interested in optimizing their health and appearance could face arrest and prosecution as drug offenders. In some cases, they could even have their assets seized and forfeited!
Even if these products are banned by a mechanism other than the Controlled Substances Act, they would no longer be available unless and until the FDA approved them as drugs. It's scary because the attack on these products isn't going to go away. A law is most likely going to be passed. The issue is its scope.
T-mag: Who's behind this push to ban prohormones/pro-steroids? What's the real story?
RC: As usual, special-interest groups seem to be the prime culprits. In this case, it's the group that protects against doping in competitive sports. They're dedicated to banishing all performance-enhancing substances (drugs and dietary supplements) from collegiate, professional, and other organized athletics. But they're overstepping their bounds and trying to dictate what the rest of us can and can't do. What gives them that right?
T-mag: Well, they certainly haven't decreased the use of steroids in top level sports, that's for sure. Now, in your book, Legal Muscle, you write about how anabolic steroids were criminalized. I was amazed at the ignorance of those behind this measure. They didn't know a thing about steroids, just myths and misconceptions. I can't help but see similarities with the possible prohormone/pro-steroid measures.
RC: It's déjà vu! You've got tons of bad press, some of it based on speculation or completely unfounded. You've got regulatory bodies – the FDA and DEA – that have done little, if anything, to address the situation. You've got an aggressive anti-doping lobby provoking Congress to do something. As a result, you've got some Capitol Hill lawmakers feeling compelled to act. That's exactly what happened with steroids. The Ben Johnson scandal was the last straw before the axe fell. Now, it's ephedra horror stories.
T-mag: Rick, most of these horror stories seem really convoluted and unfounded. Usually they involve many extraneous factors besides the fact that the athlete had used a fat burner. Many who've had problems had preexisting medical conditions and didn't read the label, which clearly said not to take then product if you have those conditions. Others take five times the recommended dosage, then go out and train in the heat without water. These people may have been on ephedra, but that clearly wasn't what killed them.
I mean, we can't legislate common sense. Remember when creatine was under the microscope because of the two wrestlers who put on rubber suits and then exercised in a sauna in an attempt to make weight? Some tried to blame creatine for their deaths. Stuff like this makes anyone with a lick of common sense want to pull his hair out!
RC: We've become an extremely litigious society. When something bad happens, the immediate response is to blame others and sue. Some idiot holds a cup of hot coffee between his knees, then looks for somebody else to blame when it spills and burns him. Of course, the press is also to blame. They love to expose "unsafe" products and stir up a little public hysteria. It's a terrific ratings booster, and sells papers.
T-mag: A person can die from misusing a variety of OTC products, aspirin for example. So why do sports supplements get picked on?
RC: Because sports performance supplements have a sworn enemy that is very skilled at manipulating the media: the sports anti-doping establishment. To them, sports supplements are evil by their very definition. They are substances which, when consumed, give one competitor a significant athletic edge over another. So it's the combination of potentially being bad for you if abused with potentially being "too good" for you on the field that's the problem.
T-mag: It seems that a politician can't say the word "andro" without bring up ephedra, which, of course, isn't a prohormone. What's up with that?
RC: Those looking to outlaw prohormones want to confuse the issues. Dirty one with the other. Muddy the waters. Myths and misconceptions, Chris.
T-mag: Do they have any valid claims against prohormones/pro-steroids?
RC: Only in certain regards. The anti-doping folks have every right to ban prohormones in their own sports events. And when it comes to teenagers, most everyone agrees that prohormone products are inappropriate. But many of these products are very beneficial for adults. Many of these products fall under DSHEA, the federal law protecting dietary supplements, and it's just plain wrong to ban them.
T-mag: Are all prohormone/pro-steroid products protected by DSHEA?
RC: The government isn't sure which ones are and which ones aren't, so they just want to ban them all. That's the objective of some folks.
T-mag: If unchecked, where could this lead? Are we going to be back to desiccated liver tablets? Is something as safe and benign as creatine going to be next?
RC: I'm worried, and you should be too. They're on a crusade.
T-mag: If safe and effective supplements are pulled from the market, do you think more people will turn to the black market and steroids?
RC: Of course. That's exactly what happened when steroids were criminalized. The black market exploded, and so did the potential health risks of using steroids. That's one of the central themes of Legal Muscle.
T-mag: Would a compromise help at all? Since many claim they're wanting to ban supplements "for the children," how about carding for prohormones so no one under a certain age can buy them?
RC: Given the current climate, negotiating a fair compromise will be crucial if the healthful prohormone market is to be saved. Yes, prohibiting sales to minors has got to be part of that compromise. And it ought to be. The USFA is fully behind that idea. Getting rid of specific products that are unsafe or are not properly and legally protected by DSHEA is also important, as is demonstrating responsible self-regulation as an industry.
T-mag: Give us some more info on the USFA.
RC: The United Supplement Freedom Association is a non-profit coalition. It's made up of supplement companies, scientists, researchers, and consumers. Our goal is to ensure that safe and appropriate dietary supplements remain available for adults. We want to make sure that any law that Congress passes isn't overly broad and doesn't deprive adult Americans from healthful products.
T-mag: Assuming the politicians will listen, can we convince them that this is a bad idea that will lead to more illegal steroid use?
RC: I hope so. A team of lawyers and scientists from within the industry is conducting a review to determine which products are safe, legal, and protected by DSHEA – and which are not. The review has to be absolutely honest. Some people in Washington have a very negative view of the dietary supplements industry. The USFA is aiming to restore public confidence in this industry and its products. For example, we're also drafting advertising guidelines to make sure that prohormones products are responsibly marketed. Some companies in this business need to clean up their acts.
T-mag: Who's involved in the USFA? Who's putting his money where his mouth is and who isn't?
RC: For starters, Biotest, Sci-Fit, ErgoPharm, Nutrex, Avant Labs, Molecular Nutrition, 1-FAST-400, S.A.N., and Impact Nutrition have contributed to the cause. These companies are devoting time and money to protect the rights of consumers to enjoy safe nutritional products. They have pledged to develop and adhere to responsible industry guidelines. Once these guidelines are set, all members will have to abide by them.
T-mag: Are the rival supplement companies of the USFA working well together?
RC: Better than I would have thought. As General Counsel, I had to smooth out a few minor rough spots in the beginning, but then the shared goals really brought them all together. Many of the individuals in these particular companies are really good and honest people. I think the members of the USFA really care about their products and their customers.
T-mag: You're missing a few "big names" on that list of USFA supporters. What about the other large supplement companies?
RC: Nothing. Some of them are just sitting on the fence, watching others do the fighting.
T-mag: Why are they being so lame?
RC: Greed, maybe, or shortsightedness. Some may think there's no chance of saving prohormones. Others claim to think they're not really in danger at all. They are in danger – big time! And the more ads that boast "steroid-like gains" and talk about "legal loopholes," the more likely this market will meet a fast end. But until a law is actually passed, there's still hope.
T-mag: What can the average gym rat do to help out?
RC: Spread the word about this issue! Tell your friends and neighbors! Go to the USFA web site. It's at USFA.biz. There, you can follow the directions on how to petition your Congressional representatives and demand that they oppose any overbroad bills outlawing all prohormones for adults. A form letter and list of legislators is available on the site. Get involved! Support the USFA! Or it could be back to desiccated liver for all of us.
T-mag: Thanks for the scary interview, Rick. Let's hope supplement users out there read this and take action.
Note: T-mag.com encourages everyone to visit the USFA site and do their part. We also give full permission to anyone who wants to send this article to others or post it on message boards and public forums.