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Old 10-05-18, 09:56 AM
Underground Steroids - How It Works
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By William Llewellyn

Living in the Era of Underground Steroids

I believe we all reach a point in our lives where we look back at the days of our youth, and find striking contrasts with the world of today. Many of my earlier years were marked by corded telephones, cassette players and VHS tapes. We didn’t have e-mail or texting, and “out for the night” usually meant you were unreachable. Though technology is far improved today, nostalgia has a way of making the ways of the past seem comforting, if not advantageous. We can argue about the benefits of living without cell phones later. This article isn’t about societal trivialities, but another change to the world that affects virtually every steroid-using bodybuilder today. I am talking about the new dominance of underground steroids, a phenomenon fairly rare 20 years ago.



I used steroids for the first time as a teenager. I remember the items I had access to very well. Most of the injectables were manufactured by domestic pharmaceutical companies such as Steris, Goldline and Schein. I knew these products to be real. In fact, I knew exactly where most of them were coming (being diverted) from. Beyond the domestics, there were European imports. These were usually oral and injectable steroids that were not made by U.S. companies; things like methandrostenolone and Primobolan. Again, most products were made by real pharmaceutical companies. While we had our share of counterfeits even then, with a bit of effort a smart shopper could keep himself or herself stocked with real gear. It was a much safer black market if you just educated yourself a little.



As I sit here today, I accept that the world of my youth has evolved. Most of my movies and music are now digital. I embrace (though sometimes also curse the inescapability of) my mobile phone. While I might prefer the world of my youth, where pharmaceutical steroids were abundant and easily obtained, it is time to face reality. Underground products are the new norm. In acceptance of this, I want to address some persistent questions about underground steroids. If you’ll indulge me, it should provide not only quick primer on what these drugs are, but hopefully some advice that might help you make better choices when buying them.

What Are Underground Steroids?

Prohibition laws have not succeeded in eliminating the steroid black market. However, they have drastically shifted the way these drugs are supplied and traded. Bulk pharmaceutical diversion in the United States is now extremely rare. It is too risky. Steroids are more freely available in other countries, but they are also expensive, bulky and difficult to smuggle in. To reduce risks and increase profits, a majority of the U.S. black market trade has moved toward the smuggling of raw steroid powders. These powders are manufactured into finished anabolic steroid products (injectables/tablets/capsules) by bulk or end-level dealers, after being safely smuggled in. A single envelope can provide enough material for hundreds, even thousands, of bottles.



Underground steroids may look like regular pharmaceuticals. They have labels, sealed tops, sometimes even boxes and inserts. They often bear official-sounding company names, like “Euro Pharma” or “Omega Laboratories.” If you examine the products more closely, however, you realize they are not real pharmaceuticals. Often there is no address on the packaging to verify. If there is, it doesn’t match a known company. If you search the Internet, the company might not be found at all, or perhaps hosts a suspicious website. We usually call these products “underground” instead of “counterfeit” because the producers are not trying to copy the products of real drug companies, but instead are creating their own brands. Most underground labs are known, at least to experienced steroid users, as “underground.”



How Underground Steroids Are Made

Underground steroids are not made in the same way as legitimate pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical steroids are assembled in sterile “clean rooms,” which are controlled under very strict conditions so as to prevent exposure of the product to bacteria or other contamination. A lot of expensive equipment is used. The entire process is constantly checked and rechecked. Regulations and oversight have been put in place to assure the manufacture of clean, sterile, accurately dosed products. There are a select few underground operations, every one of them overseas, that probably do have their products manufactured in secret by “rogue” pharmaceutical companies. Aside from these isolated exceptions, however, all underground steroids are hand assembled in the homes or businesses of the operators.



Domestic underground labs tend to use simple manufacturing procedures. For orals, steroid powder is mixed with filler(s) and stuffed into two-piece capsules with a hand-held filling tray or small encapsulating machine. Finished capsules are weighed out in bottles, then sealed and labeled. For injectables, steroid powder is usually mixed with oil, benzyl alcohol and benzyl benzoate over heat (a stove). The steroid powder dissolves once reaching its melting point. The mixed solution is then filtered, and measured doses are placed in vials. These are sealed with a hand-held crimping tool, and then labeled for sale. The assembly room is not sterile. Careful handling of the product is very important. While most underground steroids are not contaminated, by definition these products do lack assurance of sterility.

What Underground Steroids Are Made With

Most underground labs have access to the same pharmaceuticals-grade oils and cosolvents, as well as proper vials and tops, as real drug companies. They also have access to the type of small-scale filling equipment used by compounding pharmacies. These materials are not controlled in the same way as steroids, and thus are widely traded. Mind you, not every underground lab uses the more expensive pharmaceutical-grade items. But their use is certainly not rare. This is good news, because bacteria is an issue that almost always presents itself during the manufacture of injectables, when going from a dry to wet environment. It definitely does matter who makes your products. The underground lab operator has a lot of control over your chance of getting an infection!



There is still a big concern with the raw steroid powders used by underground labs. Diversion of steroid raw powders from licensed pharmaceutical manufacturers is rare. Most underground steroid ingredients originate from unlicensed chemical companies in China. These companies may lack things like distilled water, glass-lined reaction vessels, or other expensive manufacturing equipment normally required to synthesize pure steroid materials. Likewise, the steroid powders traded on the black market vary in quality greatly. Impurity is common. More concerning, filtration is insufficient to remove many types of contaminants including heavy metals, chemicals or other (unlabeled) drug substances.



There are really only two ways that underground manufacturers check the purity of their raw steroid powders. The first is to send them out for testing. If they are willing to spend the money, and risk mailing samples, not only can they find out the purity of the power, but also the identity of any contaminants. American analytical labs aren’t taking steroid samples from the public anymore, however. Most of the facilities doing this are in Europe. Thus, this type of testing is uncommon among domestic underground manufacturers. The second way to test a material is to check its melting point. Each steroid will go from powder to liquid at a certain temperature. If the powder is pure, it will melt completely. Although an imperfect visual test, it can help identify the steroid and any gross problems. This is how most American underground labs check their materials.



Two Fundamental Facts About Underground Steroids

FACT #1: Underground manufacturers have a lot of control over sterile assembly. Proper procedures can prevent bacterial contamination of the final product. Good labs produce fewer infections.



FACT #2: Underground manufacturers have limited control over the purity of their steroid raw materials. Filtration during assembly cannot remove all contaminants. Even good labs sometimes sell bad products.



There is little that an end-consumer can do about fact #2, unless of course they are willing to send their products to Europe for testing. It is just a random risk. Many underground products were made with pure materials. Many others will have unwanted contaminants. In my own testing, I’ve seen numerous problems including small amounts of heavy metals, plasticizers, pharmaceutical intermediaries and other unlisted chemicals. In products like these, the drug may be correct, and the dosage accurate. The products were often from popular labs with good reputations. These contamination issues likely went unnoticed by both the lab and its customers. It is a problem difficult to address, and thus underground steroids are inherently risky for this reason.



Again, while underground operators have limited control over their raw steroid materials, they do have a great deal of control over whether or not you get an infection when using one of their injectable products. In this non-sterile assembly environment, sterile components, gloves, masks, proper filtration equipment and ethyl alcohol can be effective deterrents of bacterial contamination. If you are going to use an underground steroid, you want to try and identify products that were made by more experienced, educated and careful underground manufacturers. There is no reliable way to do this. A vial contaminated with bacteria will look just the same as a sterile vial. However, there are a few things we can do to help increase the safety of an underground steroid purchase.

Underground Safety Checks

1. Shake the vial. Injectable steroids with an oil base should be completely dissolved. The vial should contain clear oil. Shaking the vial may produce bubbles, but the oil itself should remain clear. If the oil clouds up, there may be moisture (water) in the vial. This is a sign of poor assembly. It may also indicate an internal environment that is prone to bacterial growth.



2. Hold the vial up to light. Shake it again. Did this stir up any particles? It shouldn’t. Part of the steroid assembly process should have involved passing the final solution through a micro-fine filter. This should have eliminated any visible particles. If you see little specks floating around the vial, there is likely a problem.



3. Twist the neck of the vial. Does the top turn easily, or is it on tight? A loose vial stopper may let in air and bacteria from the outside. It is also a sign the manufacturer may be rushing the job, and not paying close enough attention to detail.



4. Ask around. Most underground labs build a reputation, good or bad. See what other people are saying. Try to work together with friends when making purchases. Sometimes an infection is due to poor injection technique. However, if the number of people using a brand and getting an infection is high, it is probably the steroid (not the users) to blame.



5. Filter it yourself. It is possible to purchase sterile, sealed vials and .22-micron syringe filters. Many bodybuilders use these to transfer the contents of an underground purchase to a new vial before use. This can remove live bacteria if present, but not pyrogens or other small contaminants, as discussed above.



In Summary

As I’ve always maintained, underground steroids are inherently risky. Even given the most educated underground operators with the best of intentions, the raw steroid materials originate from an unregulated supply chain. These materials are not commonly made to true pharmaceutical standards, and thus purity is often an issue. Even the best of labs sometimes have problems, and there is no perfectly trustworthy underground manufacturer. Still, underground manufacturing is the main source of black-market steroids today. Many will use these drugs, in spite of their risks. If you are considering their use, I hope this article has helped you better understand the market. I also hope it has given you at least a little advice on reducing your risks. As always, be safe. Health comes first.
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