Back here in sunny Florida, we harbor the kind of permissive state regulatory environment that all but encourages rogue medical pursuits.
Federal law prohibits the use of steroids as an athletic enhancement or a body building aid. And the FDA limits the use of human growth hormone (hGH) to a narrow range of medical issues. Yet aging clinics pump hGH into their patients for cosmetic reasons or to add lean muscle mass to their frames. Maybe it does both, though medical science has seen little evidence that hGH offers any long-term health benefits. But it’s the long-term side effects that worry Wollschlaeger.
“I’ve had to clean up the mess,” he said, describing patients who come to him after their so-called rejuvenation treatments. He said the anti-aging clinics often serve up a “devil’s brew,” mixing their own private recipes of high potency steroids and hGH, coming up with compounds never tested by medical science or authorized by the FDA. He talked about side effects of joint pain, soaring high blood pressure, anxiety attacks, irrational moodiness and sudden bursts of aggressive behavior. “They get quick results physically. They look good. It’s what’s happening to their brain that worries me.”
There’s another factor in the anti-aging phenomenon that might inhibit a crackdown on outlaw clinics. Body building drugs have been insinuated into law enforcement culture. In 2004, when the feds raided PowerMedica, an Internet steroid distributor based in Deerfield Beach, they discovered the names of eight Broward sheriff’s deputies, four Palm Beach County deputies, 13 West Palm Beach city cops and three Delray Beach policemen on the company’s list of regular customers. In 2006, the Department of Corrections busted a steroid-peddling ring run by a correction officer who was selling to his fellow prison guards. A 1991 FBI bulletin warned, “Anabolic steroid abuse by police officers is a serious problem.” Maybe that suggests something about law enforcement’s enthusiasm for investigating steroid and hGH mills.
Gov. Scott and other state officials managed to ignore the state’s pain pill scandal until the number of fatal ODs linked to Florida’s unscrupulous clinics caused a national uproar. Anti-aging pharmaceuticals don’t produce such obvious, dramatic tragedies, though Wollschlaeger worries that anti-aging merchants could be causing their patients serious, long-term damage. But there’s no body count to throw at a state leadership that loathes the very word “regulation.”
Even if the state and feds crack down on anti-aging clinics, Wollschlaeger suspects the cash-only business plan will simply be adopted to fit some other barely regulated, highly profitable, ethically questionable medical pursuit. “I don’t know what’s next,” he wondered. “Maybe gene therapy.”