Boys as young as 12 abuse steroids to impress girls, warn drug experts

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Boys as young as 12 are taking muscle-building anabolic steroids in an attempt to make themselves more attractive to girls, drugs advisers are warning.

But many teenagers who regularly abuse the drugs traditionally associated with athletes, bodybuilders and security guards have no idea that they can make their testicles wither, enlarge their breasts or cause acne and sterility, experts say.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs wants the Government to target an awareness campaign about the health hazards of steroids at schoolchildren.

About 200,000 people say they have used steroids, with 42,000 taking them at least once a year and 20,000 taking them every month. Sports administrators fear there will be a boom in use in the run-up to the Olympic Games in London in 2012.

Lord Adebowale, a member of the advisory council, told a meeting yesterday: "I am concerned by the lack of information about the risks they face in using them. This stuff isn't being used just by people who want to be athletes, but by people who want to be in boy bands and get girls."

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, the council's chairman, said steroids could make the testicles wither and cause acne, sterility and a form of breast enlargement. He added: "Even more worryingly, there is emerging evidence that anabolic steroids cause aggression. I'm really very worried about that."

Sir Michael said he would alert the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to the council's "very grave concerns" about the issue.

"This is a very serious potential problem way, way outside the elite athletes," he said. "It's our children we're talking about."

It is against the law to import or supply anabolic steroids, which can legally be obtained only on prescription. It is, however, lawful to possess them for personal use an inconsistency which one member of the drugs panel described yesterday as illogical.

The advisory council, which was holding its first meeting in public since it was set up in 1971, is considering the legal status of a list of 26 steroids and other substances which are not banned in Britain.

Members also expressed fears about the ease with which gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) an industrial solvent which is gaining popularity as a "club drug" can be purchased legally on the internet. Its effects are similar to gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), the "date-rape" drug which was outlawed in 2003.

Just a teaspoon-full of GBL can leave a victim heavily sedated and vulnerable to sexual assault. It is not banned in Britain and is in widespread use in the pharmaceuticals industry.

ProfessorLeslie Iversen, a pharmacologist, told the meeting that one accident and emergency unit in London had treated 158 people for suspected GBL poisoning in recent months.