Steroids that used to be called "designer" _ available only to topflight athletes looking for an edge _ are now so common that they're available on Amazon.com.
Hoping to stop this trend, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency unveiled a program called `Supplement Safety Now' on Wednesday, trying to bring more attention to efforts to stop rogue manufacturers from selling steroids under the guise of legal dietary supplements.
USADA CEO Travis Tygart said as recently as Monday, he was able to go to Amazon.com and buy "P-Plex," a muscle builder that contains Madol, a designer steroid uncovered during the BALCO scandal in 2003.
The product was still being advertised on the site Wednesday at $69.77 a bottle.
"When you can go onto a popular site like Amazon, and without ID, you can buy a product like this, it's an obvious problem, not just for athletes," Tygart said. "It undermines the legitimacy of the legitimate supplement industry. Until these problems are adequately addressed, even the most informed customer cannot have confidence in their choice."
Tygart has testified in front of Congress twice in the past three months, endorsing tougher regulations and enforcement for the supplement industry.
The NFL, Major League Baseball, the U.S. Olympic Committee and more than a dozen other sports organizations have signed on as supporters of USADA's new initiative, designed to increase awareness of the problem and seek remedies.
"We view this as an effort that's protective of players and consumers generally," said Rod Manfred, executive vice president for labor relations at Major League Baseball. "In our view, there's simply no excuse for players to have to worry about buying over-the-counter products that contain banned substances."
But both Manfred and Adolpho Birch, the NFL's VP of law and labor policy, conceded one of the most common excuses players use when they're busted for steroids _ that they took a tainted supplement _ probably will never completely disappear.
"We can't stop the nature of the excuses brought to us, but we can make sure the plausibility of those excuses goes down dramatically," Birch said.
USADA has a mostly supportive partner in the supplement makers themselves, who don't like their $23 billion industry being infiltrated by steroid dealers. However, the industry is not seeking new laws, only better enforcement of those on the books.
"I do find that disturbing, if you're able to buy these kind of products off a Web site like Amazon and those kind of products are clearly illegal in a number of regards," said Steve Mister, president of the Council for Responsible Nutrition. "But that means someone's not doing their job if they're not enforcing the law."
In recent months, the Food and Drug Administration has been more active in trying to curtail the activity. Jeff Novitzky, a key player in the BALCO investigation, now works for the FDA and has been involved in two searches and other investigations of companies that are allegedly selling steroids under the guise of dietary supplements.