Want to bulk up?

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:27 PM ET

People are killing themselves. Grown men. Women. And teenagers. And if they're not being dropped into a casket, they're suffering. Mental and physical anguish. Liver damage. Heart disease. Stunted growth. Muscle tears. Acne. Bowel problems. Shrunken testicles. For women: Facial hair, a deeper voice and baldness.

Violent mood swings. Hallucinations. Depression. Paranoia.

It's so senseless. All, seemingly, with a common thread.

The desire to be bigger, stronger and better. All easier by steroids. The Juice. Also called The Lift. The Pump. The Hype.

A way to gain an advantage. One that too often ends in devastating fashion.

But this is just Ottawa ... we don't need that kind of stuff here. Surely nobody is pushing steroids. That's just for major-league baseball players ... or pro football players. Think again, look around you ... your best buddy ... the one with the violent temper and the zits on his back. Steroids are here.

Rob Garibaldi dreamed about being just like Barry Bonds. To be able to launch towering home runs ... to have superhuman power.

Just one problem. He was too small. At age 15, he was 5-foot-9 and 130 lbs. He was told he needed to bulk up with supplements. Steroids were next. Anything to be big -- like his major-league hero.

After doing poorly on a college test, he blew up in front of his roommates. Says his father, Ray: "He started breaking things, broke his furniture with a baseball bat, yelling, screaming. The roommates said they started sleeping with baseball bats because they were fearful for their lives."

On Oct. 1, 2002, the kid who'd dreamed of being a major-leaguer since age 7 was found dead. Shot himself in his car.

"It was the steroids. He was a completely different person," Ray told CBS. "Our son went from above-average IQ down to almost being mentally retarded in one year."

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Taylor Hooton was a phenom. The 17-year-old cousin of former major-league hurler Burt Hooton was a pitcher. A good one. But he wanted to muscle up. He started buying steroids, stealing his mother's ATM card to pay for them. His face got puffy and acne spread like wildfire on his back. A quiet kid, he became belligerent. 'Roid rage.

One day last July, he buckled two belts together, tied one to the bathroom door and the other to his neck. His mother found him hanging. He died. Police found a note that read: "I love you guys. I'm sorry about everything."

In his nightstand, a vial of anabolic steroids was wrapped in an American flag.

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If the kids need examples of why they shouldn't take steroids, they don't have to look far.

Newspaper headlines. Jose Canseco admitting he juiced, allowing him to hit a ball, made of rubber and cork and wound together by yarn, into a different zip code. There's a big finger pointed at baseball's home-run kings. Steroids? They refuse to fess up.

Then there are the obituaries.

NFL all-star Lyle Alzado. Dead at 43.

Baseball all-star Ken Caminiti. Dead at 41.

Wrestler Davey Boy Smith. The British Bulldog. Dead at 39.

All superstars. All dead way too soon. All either having admitted or alleged to have used steroids.

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Bob Hazelton was a boxer. Ranked in the world's top 20 heavyweights. He fought George Foreman. But, outweighed by 40 lbs., he sought an equalizer. A way to get bigger. He took steroids and put on 30 lbs. A title shot against Joe Frazier was just one fight away. A fight he couldn't win, not when a blood clot basically shut down his left leg. He started taking human growth hormone pills and grew to more than 300 lbs. The leg was amputated in 1986. The right leg was lopped off a year later, confining Hazelton to a wheelchair. He now speaks to high school students about the dangers of steroid use. "Let's not live in a dream world. This is a killer drug," Bob tells the kids.

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"It's insane," says Ottawa fitness guru Tony Greco. "Kids might take it because they want to get bigger and stronger. But it's also making their heart beat faster and their other organs work harder.

"It's like putting a supercharged engine into a little Chevette.

"I'm 5-foot-8 and 180 lbs., and that's my limit and that's who I am. For me to get to 200 lbs., I'd have to do something that wouldn't be me. That's artificial."

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Many young adults, especially males, still ignore the risks, spin the life and death roulette wheel and take steroids.

"You bet they do," says Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport when asked if kids mimic the behaviour of professional athletes.

"When Wayne Gretzky hikes his sweater up, thousands of kids hike their sweater up. When hockey players start using composite sticks, kids start using composite sticks.

"And when baseball players admit to steroid use and say they work, sadly, thousands of kids will be following their example."

In Canada, surveys say steroid use is anywhere from 1-3% among high school students. Melia says the figure may be as high as 5-6%.

It's a problem that can no longer be ignored.

SCOOP ON STEROIDS

WHAT: They come in two main types: Anabolic and corticosteroids. Anabolics are the type used by athletes and bodybuilders for rapid muscle growth. The other is more commonly prescribed by doctors as an anti-inflammatory agent. Anabolics act similarly to testosterone.

ARE THEY LEGAL?: Steroids prescribed by a physician are legal. In Canada, possession is technically legal, but selling is not. The traffic of steroids is often tied to other illicit drugs.

WHAT THEY DO: Reduce fatigue. Users employ intense weight-training workouts and high-protein diets to maximize the effects of the drugs. The extra testosterone provided by the drugs allows users to lift heavier weights for longer periods. Steroids themselves will not build muscle.

SIDE EFFECTS (both sexes): Heart disease, high blood pressure, liver damage, liver cancer, stroke, blood clots, urinary problems, bowel problems (diarrhea), headaches, joint pain, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, sleep deprivation, increased risk of ligament and tendon injuries, acne, baldness.

OTHER SIDE EFFECTS (males): Testicle shrinkage, reduced sperm count and impotence, increase in nipple and breast size, enlarged prostate.

OTHER SIDE EFFECTS (females): Reduced breast size, enlarged clitoris, increased body and facial hair, deepened voice, menstrual irregularities.

PSYCHOLOGICAL AND MENTAL EFFECTS: "Roid rage," severe mood swings, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety attacks, depression and suicide, irritation.

OF SPECIAL NOTE TO KIDS AND YOUNG ADULTS: Steroids can prevent skeletal growth.

* Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

BARRE.CAMPBELL@OTT.SUNPUB.COM


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