I have been discussing the Chris Benoit case on cable TV news, along with other talking heads including lawyers, doctors and wrestlers. I talked about the potential role anabolic (manmade) steroids may have played in worsening Benoit's irritability, anger and possibly even provoking the psychosis that led to him murdering his wife and child and killing himself. I have been quick to point out the long-term side effects of anabolic androgenic steroids which include feminizing men, sterility problems, masculinizing women and long-term heart, liver and skin problems.
But one thing that hasn't been emphasized enough—steroids themselves aren't bad drugs. In fact, they have important indications in patients with true adrenal or pituitary deficiencies. The negative media hype obscures the fact that the true problem is not with anabolic steroids, but with the doctors who are prescribing them, and the sports agencies that are inadequately regulating them.
Benoit reportedly received a 10-month prescription for steroids every three to four weeks from his physician, Dr Phil Astin, who was reportedly over-prescribing thousands of painkillers and sedatives to other patients. The DEA was reportedly building a case against Astin for several months, and close to a million unnecessary pills may have been prescribed.
Each time a medication is wrongly or excessively prescribed, it ends up being blamed for a bad outcome. But it is not the drugs themselves that are to blame; it is wrong for medicines to be described and pigeonholed in the media as either good guys or bad guys.
When it comes to anabolic steroids and narcotics, I may have contributed to the growing backlash against them as dangerous drugs. This is fair only insomuch as they are used improperly. But what I really intend is not to target the drugs, but rather the physicians who are irresponsibly prescribing them.
Marc Siegel, MD, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at New York University and the author of False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear