People who just wanted to look healthier were among those who bought steroids from a vast sales network exposed this week after a two-year international probe, a senior U.S. drug enforcement agent said on Tuesday.
"Some semi-professional body builders and personal trainers (ordered steroids), but just as well, average Americans who were going into the gym and who wanted to get bigger and wanted to get stronger," said John Gilbride, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent who oversaw the investigation.
"There were firefighters, some law enforcement individuals, individuals from every walk of life," he told CNN.
In the largest U.S. steroid crackdown ever, more than 120 people have been arrested for illegal manufacturing and trafficking of anabolic steroids and the raw materials, mainly from China, used to make the performance-enhancing drugs, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.
Under the investigation, dubbed Operation Raw Deal, federal agents closed down 56 steroid labs and seized 533 pounds of raw steroid powder of Chinese origin, after executing 143 search warrants on targets around the United States.
According to the charges, worldwide manufacturers of the raw materials needed for steroids used Web sites to market their products and provided guidance to potential customers on how to obtain steroids or convert the raw material into steroids.
"The Internet opens up the illegal steroid market to anyone," said Gilbride, who oversaw Operation Raw Deal. "A youngster can sit in a bedroom or living room with a computer terminal and go on line and order up the conversion kits used manufacture the illegal steroids.
"All you need is a credit card and a place to deliver the steroids to," he said.
Anabolic steroids aid muscle tissue build-up and are popular with bodybuilders but can cause damage to the heart and liver.
Gilbride said youths are most likely to use steroids. In a bid to stop use by teenagers, three states — New Jersey, Florida and Texas — this month began testing high school athletes for performance-enhancing drugs.
Though there have been a growing number of scandals involving professional athletes, such as new home run king Barry Bonds, no professional athletes were directly involved in the investigation, the Justice Department said.