“Miami is particularly known for this type of thing,” he added.
Ayala said many doctors wrongly diagnose patients as having “hGH deficiency” by simply comparing a patient’s current hormone levels with those of a younger person — a method that would not indicate a specific condition requiring hormone treatment. “Most patients they treat are not hormone deficient,” he said.
Steroids and hormones could also be dangerous for patients, increasing the risk of tumors, diabetes or other illnesses, Ayala said.
“They’re basically conducting a biological experiment on their own patients,” Olshansky said.
Another danger: synthetic or counterfeit steroids and hormones from other countries. Because the manufacture of hGH in particular is tightly controlled, black-market sellers have sought out the drugs from overseas, which may be adulterated.
In 2007, for example, the owners of a Colorado pharmacy were indicted for smuggling in hGH from China and shipping it to physicians around the U.S. — including a doctor at a Fort Lauderdale clinic, court records show.
Though doctors can be disciplined for improperly prescribing steroids, punishment in Florida is rare. Of the 81 doctors disciplined by the state for violating prescription rules since 2010, only four were punished for steroid or growth-hormone violations, records show.
But federal investigators have taken notice of the problem.
In 2010, four men were indicted for trafficking human growth hormone through Powermedica, a Deerfield Beach pharmacy. A year later, the DEA arrested 13 people in a steroid trafficking ring centered on a rogue pharmacy in Jensen Beach, in Martin County, which shipped 10,000 steroid prescriptions to patients around the country in a six-month period, records show.
Three doctors were among those arrested as part of the Jensen Beach probe, including two from Broward County. State health officials said the doctors filled out prescriptions for steroids and human growth hormone without ever examining the patients receiving the drugs.
Dr. Steven Pearlstein of Coral Springs and Dr. Alan Lefkin of Parkland both pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last fall, and both are now awaiting sentencing in federal court.