WASHINGTON – Former heavyweight boxer Robert Hazelton has spent the last seven years having both of his legs amputated bit by bit.
Hazelton now finds himself in a wheelchair because of his steroid use. He’s had more than 49 surgeries on both legs. Halfway through his testimony Tuesday at a House Subcommittee on Crime,Terrorism and Homeland Security hearing,he paused to gather his composure.
“I sit here with no legs,” Hazelton said. After another deep breath,he continued,”Well,it’s because people didn’t tell me. We’ve got to do something about this drug.”
At a hearing on the “Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004,” Hazelton joined a panel including Rep. John Sweeney,R-N.Y.; Joseph Rannazzisi,deputy director of the Office of Diversion Control of the Drug Enforcement Agency,and Ralph Hale,a doctor and chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s board.
The legislation would add several steroid precursors to the list of banned substances. The body converts steroid precursors into anabolic steroids once they are ingested.
The bill would also increase penalties for anyone who traffics in steroids within 1,000 feet of an athletic facility. Witnesses expressed concerns that steroid use by professional athletes will influence children to do the same.
“Keeping our children safe is more important than restoring integrity to the sports world,” Sweeney said.
Steroid use has been banned in the United States for more than 10 years. Since then,new products called steroid precursors,which don't fit the definitions in the existing laws,have become popular.
“The trend is alarming,” said Rep. Howard Coble,R-N.C.,subcommittee chairman. “But even more disturbing is some are not yet illegal.”
Products are marketed under names that reinforce their connection to anabolic steroids,including Masterbolan,Anabol-X,Paradrol and Animal Stak,Hale said.
Advances in technology and science allow manufacturers to make minor chemical changes to a product after it is deemed illegal and reintroduce it as a legal substance.
“There’s always people who will try any way possible to circumvent the law,” Hale said. He said that as long as precursors are legal,no amount of education will stop people from using over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements containing precursors.
High-school students “believe that its been approved because they don’t understand the alternatives,” Hale said.
Anabolic steroids can increase the risk for heart attacks,strokes,liver problems and cancer. They can also cause undesirable body changes including acne,hair loss,enlarged breasts in men and more masculine features in women,according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Web site.
In 1969 Hazelton began boxing,winning seven straight fights. He was defeated by George Foreman in the next fight,a loss that prompted his steroid use to enhance performance,he explained.
“You feel like you aren’t big enough,” even as the user gains weight,he said.
In the first few years of use,he gained 40 pounds and was winning the majority of his fights. But almost four years later,the pain in his calves was so severe that it hurt to walk,he said. Eventually his legs became infected and developed gangrene.
Hazelton said he now lectures to educate kids about the dangers of steroids – something he wished he’d known when started taking them.