DUBAI // Performance-enhancing drugs are widely and cheaply available in Dubai despite being banned, leading the emirate to attract “drug tourists”, former Olympic athletes living in the UAE say.
They claimed that performance enhancers such as anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and testosterone are easily available in the emirate and cost half the price in Europe and America.
“I was astonished how rampant the use of performance-enhancing drugs is here compared to the US,” said a former US Olympic weightlifter who is now a personal trainer in Dubai.
“I moved here nine years ago from the US, but the drug culture there was nothing compared to Dubai. It is more accepted, drugs are cheaper and easier to get. There is a culture of people coming here to take drugs.”
A month’s supply of anabolic steroids – taken to build and repair muscle and usually injected – costs about US$100 a month, compared with about $400 per month in the US, he said.
Human growth hormone is more expensive, costing about Dh1,300 for a 10-day supply, but it is still half of the price in the US.
This has turned Dubai into a hot spot for dopers, the former Olympian said, adding that in the GCC, drugs are mostly taken for aesthetics, not performance.
Users are often unaware of the risk.
“Risks increase the longer you take drugs for. It’s like Russian roulette,” he said.
“If you play it every weekend, the guy who plays every day is more likely to die. It is a controlled risk, but like anything, it is never 100 per cent safe.”
He called for criminalising the use of these drugs without a prescription, as the athletes who used them face competition bans but not prison sentences.
“Criminalising drugs here would definitely help eradicate their use. If a law is issued, everyone takes it seriously,” he said.
Steroids are thought to be addictive in 30 per cent of users and although long-term affects are largely unknown, doctors claimed they can cause brain cells to die prematurely, encouraging the early onset of dementia. Organ failure has also been recorded in long-term users.
Despite the risks, use of steroids and other sports drugs has become something of an arms race in amateur and professional sports. In the UK, a steroid subculture has attracted about 60,000 known users.
In June last year, a Dh100,000 haul of sports drugs was seized from sports clubs in Dubai during a joint inspection campaign with the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare and the National Committee for the Combat of Doping.
“Drug use has become more common because of the increase in international competition,” said Dr Danielle White, 53, an associate professor at the American University in the Emirates and a competitive bodybuilder.
“A standardised global procedure for drug testing is the only way you can say governing bodies are coming down hard on doping.”
She believed every national governing body, including the UAE National Olympic Committee, should have its own standards of drug testing, in compliance with the International Olympic Committee.
“If the tone is not set at the top, how can you criminalise at the lower end of sport?” Dr White said.
“Amateur athletes can’t be blamed for not following standards if they are not in place at the highest level. There may be a banned list of substances, but if the education is not in place, it’s pointless.”