HL Deb 07 May 1996 vol 572 cc12-5

3.10 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to bring the substances which are listed in the order within the terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

In October 1992 the Government asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to consider whether anabolic steroids should be brought under control. The council concluded that there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the misuse of anabolic steroids and other substances with similar effects constituted a social problem—a key criterion of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971—and should accordingly be controlled. It is that advice which has led to the order being brought forward.

The substances referred to as anabolic steroids have two effects. One is to increase muscle mass (the anabolic activity) and the other is to masculinise (the androgenic activity). Either one or a combination of these effects can be attractive to people who wish to improve their athletic performance or to enhance their physical appearance. They have to take them over a long period of time and to train hard if the desired results are to be achieved. The effects are not instantaneous and in that respect they are rather different from other controlled drugs.

Misusers take these drugs in quantities which greatly exceed therapeutic doses and we are concerned about the serious effects which they can have on their health. Reported side-effects include liver and kidney disorders, high blood pressure and adverse effects to sexual organs. There is also some evidence that steroids may cause changes in mood and behaviour, including increased aggression.

Injectors also run the risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis and other diseases through the use of non-sterile injecting equipment or through sharing needles. It is estimated that about 80 per cent. of those who take anabolic steroids take them through that method.

The extent of misuse is hard to gauge. But a study in 1992 into anabolic steroid misuse in Great Britain showed, through a gym survey and a survey of misusers using syringe exchanges, that misuse was spread through many parts of the country but appeared to be confined to persons who used them instrumentally in sports and weight training. Misuse was found to cover all social groups and to be a predominantly male activity from the late teens through the twenties and thirties. It was on the basis of those considerations that the advisory council recommended that anabolic steroids and similar acting substances should be controlled.

The council has recommended the substances in the order which we are considering. This begins with a list of 48 steroids with anabolic and/or androgenic activity. I shall give noble Lords a quick flavour of what they cover. They start with Atamestane, Methenolone, Methyltestosterone, Metribolone, Norclostebol, Norethandrolone, Oxandrolone, Enestebol, Ethyloestrenol, Fluoxymesterone, and I shall finish with Trenbolone. I am glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, is interested in that information which no doubt he already knew.

The order goes on in sub-paragraph (c) to provide a generic definition of substances which as yet have not been developed but if they were would have similar properties. It is thus a catch-all. The Act contains similar provisions which, for example, catch Ecstasy and its close relatives without naming them specifically. In addition to these anabolic and androgenic steroids there are in sub-paragraph (e) six further substances listed. These are also characterised by their muscle mass increasing properties and are known to be misused by body builders and sportsmen.

The order makes the substances Class C drugs rendering offenders liable on summary conviction to a maximum term of imprisonment of three months and/or a fine of £2,500 and on conviction on indictment to a maximum of five years and/or an unlimited fine.

Having brought the substances within the terms of the 1971 Act we propose by amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 1985 to make it an offence without authority to produce, to supply, or to possess or import or export with intent to supply, the specified substances. It would not, however, be an offence simply to possess these drugs in the United Kingdom. The advisory council took the view that the illicit dealers and traffickers should be the target rather than those who misuse anabolic steroids. After careful consideration we have accepted the council's recommendation which would in this respect put these substances into the same category as the benzodiazepine drugs such diazepam. Our intention is to bring the controls into force on 1st September.

I stress that addressing the supply side, which this order will do, is to deal with only one part of the problem. We need also to tackle demand, which we are doing through the strategy set out in the White Paper Tackling Drugs Together which is as applicable to anabolic steroids as it is to other drugs of misuse. Action across a range of fronts is required to make an impact on anabolic steroid misuse, as it is for all drugs. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21st March be approved [15th Report from the Joint Committed].—(The Earl of Courtown.)

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, on the basis that the order follows directly, and without alteration, from the recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, we on these Benches have no objection to its introduction, and we would not seek to oppose it in any way. Indeed, we congratulate the Government on following the scientific recommendations made to them.

One or two of the remarks of the noble Earl puzzle me. He referred to the possibility of misuse in more than therapeutic doses. I am not clear whether that means that within therapeutic doses it would still be legal. He said that many sportsmen and bodybuilders use far more than is required in therapeutic doses. Will therapeutic doses still be legal after the order takes effect? The noble Earl says that Ecstasy comes under the order. It is not clear where, in the four paragraphs of the order, it comes and what protection there is for future variations along the same general formula. Nor is it clear whether the undoubted ability of what one might call the fringe pharmaceutical industry to produce variations which would evade regulation of this kind will be controlled.

Finally, I am grateful for the confirmation that as a Class C drug it will be supply rather than possession of the drug that will be controlled.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for his support of the order. He had two queries about the therapeutic uses of anabolic steroids. They will still be able to be prescribed by the medical profession. It is difficult to gauge where therapeutic use stops and abuse starts. This is an area where we are learning all the time. We shall continually monitor all aspects of anabolic steroid abuse.

I see from looking at my notes again that I was not clear when I referred to Ecstasy. As I understand it, Ecstasy is already covered under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I mentioned it so as to make clear how under paragraph (2)(c) we use various chemical formulas to try to cover any future variation of anabolic steroids that may come to the market.

As regards consultation, perhaps I may confirm that the council took evidence from researchers who undertook an exploratory investigation of anabolic steroid use throughout Great Britain. That involved doctors from South Wales, who had particular experience with anabolic steroid use; the police; the Sports Council; and researchers who had investigated the psychological effects of anabolic steroid use. Research papers on the subject were also studied.

Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that the order brings under control an entirely new range of substances. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded that their misuse, in the words of the 1971 Act, was, having or appeared capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem". We believe therefore that it is right and proper that they should be controlled. These substances will render liable to prosecution by the police people who illicitly supply them. There is no doubt in the Government's mind that it is against these people that the force of the criminal law should be directed. That is what the order, and the accompanying regulations, will bring about. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.