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Performance and image enhancing drugs

31 July 2019

Performance and image enhancing drugs are a diverse group of drugs that some people use with the aim of improving their sporting performance or pursuing a desired look for their body. Some examples include:

  • anabolic-androgenic steroids, such as testosterone
  • selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs), such as enobosarm
  • beta-2-agonists, such as clenbuterol
  • stimulants, such as amphetamines
  • peptide hormones, growth factors, and related peptide drugs, such as human growth hormone
  • tanning agents, such as melanotan-I and melanotan-II.

Some drugs that are used for performance and image enhancement are approved by the TGA as prescription medicines for specific health conditions. However, these drugs are not approved for performance and image enhancement purposes.

Known and unknown risks

There are known risks with performance and image enhancing drugs. For example, some of the known risks of using testosterone and related substances include shrunken testes, liver failure, heart attack and stroke. Some of the known risks of using human growth hormone include diabetes and excessive growth of the bones in your face, hands and feet (acromegaly).

There are also unknown risks with performance and image enhancing drugs.  In many cases there is too little research to know if these drugs are safe or if they work.

Further risks come with performance and image enhancing drugs that must be injected. Serious and even life-threatening infections can result from unsterile needle technique.

Products may contain dangerous ingredients and contaminants

Purchasing performance and image enhancing drugs from an online store or local dealer is a gamble. What looks like a quality product could actually be from a dodgy manufacturer with no quality controls.

Products that are purchased online or from local dealers could be counterfeit or contaminated with toxic chemicals. The doses and ingredients could also be different to what is stated on the label.

Supply and possession are illegal

Most performance and image enhancing drugs are illegal to supply to Australian consumers who do not have a prescription. Some suppliers print phrases like ‘for research purposes only’ on the label, but these phrases do not change the fact that supplying these drugs for consumer use is illegal.

Depending on the drug and the state in which you live, possession of a performance and image enhancing drug without a prescription may also be illegal. You could face a fine or prison sentence for possession.

Using in sports is prohibited

Performance and image enhancing drugs are prohibited by anti-doping policies in many sports. More information on prohibited substances is available from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority.

Seek advice from a health professional

Seek advice from a doctor if you are using (or thinking about using) a drug for performance and image enhancement. Your doctor can advise of the risks associated with specific drugs and discuss how you can meet your performance and image goals safely.

If you are injecting performance and image enhancing drugs, needle and syringe programs can provide you with sterile injecting equipment and advice on how to use it. Information is available online to help you find a needle and syringe program in your state or territory:

Performance and image enhancing drugs can be disposed of safely at a pharmacy.

Choose products carefully

There are a few steps you can take to protect your health and safety when choosing products. For example:

  • don't buy from overseas websites
  • look for an AUST number on the label, which confirms it is a TGA regulated product
  • seek advice from a health professional before using a new product
  • consider alternative options when aiming to enhance your fitness or physique

Report illegal or questionable practices

The TGA oversees the regulation of therapeutic goods used in Australia, whether produced in Australia or elsewhere. The TGA implements a range of enforcement remedies to address illegal supply of unapproved therapeutic goods, including seizing and destroying illegal medicines and medical devices, and criminal or civil court proceedings, which can result in substantial fines or imprisonment.

You should report illegal or questionable practices, including suspected counterfeit medicines and medical devices, to the TGA. Advertising complaints can also be made online.

More information