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Weightlifter, Lobbyist Join Forces in Fighting Steroids

Times Staff Writer

A man, who lifts weights to become more macho, hears about miracle drugs that, according to legend in the gyms, will enable him to grow faster.

He visits a controversial doctor, who prescribes the drugs for the man.

Five years later, other doctors tell the man that he has two years to live. He has cancer, and the doctors speculate that the drugs caused it. The man has surgery, and the cancer goes into remission. The man decides to take action against the controversial doctor and the drugs.

A woman from a small town in Iowa becomes a lobbyist and moves to Sacramento because she believes there is more political action there. On weekends, she is a nurse.

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She hears about the man who had cancer and decides to push for legislation that she hopes will end frivolous use of the so-called miracle drugs. She pays many of the expenses for the effort out of her own pocket.

It is a farfetched story, one that is hardly suited for the ways and means realities of the state Capitol. Lofty ideals do not soar like eagles in Sacramento; they are assigned to committees.

But with the lobbyist, Kathy Lynch, leading the way through the legislative maze and with the former weightlifter, Bill Lumas, as her star witness, California could, by the end of this year, have the most stringent laws in the nation against the use of anabolic steroids for athletic purposes.

“There is a force behind us,” said Lumas’ wife, Patti, as hearings continued last week on the proposed legislation.

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Said one of the other witnesses: “There has to be a force, because if you wait for the medical profession or the legislature to do anything on their own, you’ll wait until hell freezes over.”

Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. As many as a million athletes in the United States are believed to be using the drugs, most of them without medical supervision.

Many athletes say that their performances are enhanced through the increased strength that is believed to result from the use of anabolic steroids. But there is mounting evidence that anabolic steroids also lead to health risks, the most serious of which are cardiovascular diseases and liver cancer.

From the gains he had made in his own recreational weightlifting, Lumas, who lives in Long Beach, knew about the positive effects of anabolic steroids, which he began using in 1979.

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But he said he knew nothing about the potential dangers to his health until one night in October of 1984, when he began to suffer abdominal pains. His wife took him to the emergency room at Memorial Medical Center of Long Beach, where it was discovered that he had a massive liver tumor.

A week later, he was transferred to the UCLA Medical Center for emergency treatment. He was 37.

“The doctors told me about another man at UCLA with liver cancer who had a 10% chance to live,” Patti said during a conversation outside one of the committee rooms in the Capitol.

“When I told Bill, he said, ‘Why even bother with treatment?’ He didn’t know that the doctors had told me that Bill had only a 1% chance to live. They said chemotherapy was a waste of time.”

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But when tests revealed that Lumas’ cancer was hormonally induced, believed by doctors at UCLA to have resulted from his use of anabolic steroids, it was determined that surgery could be successful. In a 9 1/2-hour operation, doctors removed a four-pound tumor, along with all but one-third of Lumas’ liver. More than a year and a half later, the cancer has not returned.

Since being introduced to legislators by Lynch, Lumas has become the inspiration for three separate pieces of proposed legislation in Sacramento, two sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Condit (D-Ceres) and one by Assemblyman Steve Clute (D-Riverside).

Two of the bills are relatively noncontroversial. Clute’s AB3724 would require the posting of notices in health clubs, gyms and locker rooms throughout the state that the distribution of steroids without prescriptions is illegal. Condit’s AB213 would require schools to instruct high school students about the potential health risks involved in the use of anabolic steroids.

There has been debate, however, about the potential consequences of Condit’s AB4029, which would add anabolic steroids to Schedule III of the state’s controlled-substances act.

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Drugs are classified according to their effectiveness as treatment for legitimate medical purposes and also according to their potential dangers. A dangerous drug that has no known medical purpose, such as heroin, is on Schedule I. Marijuana is on Schedule V.

Condit’s research has led him to believe that anabolic steroids belong somewhere in the middle, along with a group of drugs that have legitimate medical purposes but are often misused. Codeine is one. If his bill becomes law, California will be the first state to classify anabolic steroids as a controlled substance.

Under the proposed legislation, simple possession of anabolic steroids without a prescription would be a misdemeanor for first-time offenders and a felony for subsequent offenses. Those convicted would be subject to two to four years of imprisonment, as would those convicted of possessing anabolic steroids with the intent to sell.

Anyone convicted of distributing anabolic steroids would be subject to three to five years of imprisonment. To the concern of some in the medical profession, that would include doctors who prescribe anabolic steroids for reasons considered by the state to be illegitimate.

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There are legitimate uses for anabolic steroids, such as in the treatment of cancer, burns, malnutrition and arthritis. Doctors prescribing anabolic steroids for those patients would not be in violation of the law.

But Condit estimates that only 40% of the anabolic steroids sold in the United States are for medical purposes. The rest are sold to athletes, much of them on a thriving black market. Doctors who prescribe anabolic steroids for them likely would be breaking the law.

Law enforcement officials favor the bill.

“Part of the problem now is that there’s very little incentive for us to get involved with the distribution of anabolic steroids because there are no penalties,” said Robert Schirin, head of the Los Angeles district attorney’s task force on drugs. “This would give us the incentive.”

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Most of the opposition so far has been philosophical.

Some doctors are opposed to the bill because they view it as a restriction on the medical profession by the government. One of the critics is Dr. Bob Goldman, a Chicago osteopath and one of the nation’s leading authorities on the dangers of anabolic steroids.

“There are some doctors prescribing steroids for athletes who have to be dealt with, but there are ways to do that within the medical profession through peer review,” Goldman said. “I really don’t like legislators telling doctors what they should and should not do in the practice of medicine.”

That also is the argument of Bill Cleveland, a lobbyist for the California Medical Assn.

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“I’m not sure the legislature should decide what’s the proper purpose of a drug,” he said, adding that the CMA has not yet determined its official position on the bill. “That kind of decision is best left up to physicians.

“I’m not condoning the use of anabolic steroids for body building. But the issue here isn’t steroids. The issue is the professional judgment of a physician.”

At least one assemblyman, Dr. Nolan Frizzelle (R-Fountain Valley), is concerned about another issue, the infringement on the rights of the individual to use anabolic steroids, even if it is the death of him.

“I’m not for steroids,” Frizzelle said. “But people who choose to build their bodies by taking steroids have the right to make that choice.

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“How much right do we have to infringe upon the right of the individual to build his body any way he wants? Really, the question is the appropriate role of government.”

Before doctors removed two-thirds of his liver, Lumas would not have disagreed with Frizzelle.

“I’ve always been a Republican,” Lumas said. “I figured that people should be allowed to do what they want without a lot of government interference.

“But there are too many people who don’t know what they’re doing getting involved in steroids, including a lot of junior high and high school kids. It’s time for the government to step in.”

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Lumas was one of the uninformed in 1979, when he was referred by other weightlifters at his gym to Dr. Robert Kerr, a San Gabriel sports medicine specialist and expert on anabolic steroids who said during a 1983 interview that he had 4,000 anabolic steroid patients, most of them athletes.

“I can’t remember whether he recommended that I take steroids,” Lumas said. “But when I told him that I wanted them, he gave me a prescription and said, ‘These will make you bigger.’

“He was right. I was able to do more in my workouts than I ever had before. I gained 20 or 30 pounds, all muscle.”

Lumas said that the prescription called for him to take a daily dose of 100 milligrams of Anadrol, an oral anabolic steroid.

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“I really trusted the guy,” Lumas said. “He never warned me about the side effects.”

Kerr declined to be interviewed for this story.

One effect of the drug use was a personality change that Lumas said almost cost him his marriage. But he said he did not associate his sudden mood changes with the drugs until after he had given up anabolic steroids, when he began hearing about others who had similar experiences.

“After we married in 1983, everything was fine for a few months,” he said. “Then we started experiencing marital difficulties. Steroids make you very aggressive, give you an explosive temper.

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“They also give you more drive than the average person. You have a set objective. You want to knock everything else out of the way. We had some strenuous times.”

During an interview last week in Condit’s office, Lumas told of one particularly ugly incident, which he asked remain confidential.

“She’ll testify about it,” he said, nodding to his wife, Patti.

“No,” she said.

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“No?” Lumas said.

“No,” she said, searching for a tissue in her purse as she began to cry before leaving the room.

“She still gets emotional when we look back on those times,” Lumas said.

Patti returned a few minutes later, having regained her composure.

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“Even after he returned home from the hospital, he had the (Anadrol) bottles with him,” she said. “He didn’t know whether he could give up the steroids. He thought he would lose his job. He thought he would become a Casper Milquetoast. He was frightened.”

It was while Lumas was at home recovering from the surgery that Lynch became aware of his situation. They had been associates, he as a sales representative for the California Trucking Assn. and she as a lobbyist for the group.

As a volunteer nurse in the coronary care unit of a Sacramento hospital, Lynch understood the medical implications.

As a successful lobbyist, she knew how to convert her concern into political action.

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“We all know the side effects of steroids,” she said. “It’s not even a debate anymore. What I’m really hoping for is to drive home a point to physicians and athletic trainers and coaches that they’re liable for what happens to their athletes.

“They all know what’s going on. Some are in favor of it, some aren’t. Some believe it’s just part of athletics.

“What they’d better realize is that the liability is theirs. Maybe there’s going to have to be two or three lawsuits before they see it that way.”

Lynch was raised in Jefferson, Iowa, earned a graduate degree from Iowa State in industrial labor relations and served an internship in Iowa’s state government before moving to Sacramento. She will not reveal her age, except to admit that she is too young to run for President.

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“California is the state where politics is really happening,” she said. “It’s a trend-setter. Other states are looking at what we do here.”

Recognizing that she was unlikely to receive financial backing for her campaign against anabolic steroids, she enlisted the aid of a Sacramento public relations specialist, Leo McCarthy, in forming SOS--Steroids Out of Sports--and took on the issue herself.

“There was nothing in it for me,” she said. “I felt a need to do it because it was there to be done. I really don’t like the image the public has of lobbyists. It might have been realistic in the past, but there are a lot of committed lobbyists today. We realize we owe something back.”

Lynch found sponsors for the proposed legislation in Condit, who is chairman of the Assembly’s Sports and Entertainment Committee, and Clute.

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“The sad thing about anabolic steroids is that they play on the finest instincts,” Condit said after a hearing last summer in Los Angeles. “Everyone wants to look good and feel good and achieve at the highest level. But while steroids may be helping athletes achieve, they are taking five years off their lives.

“You have to question a society that induces people to use harmful drugs in order to achieve. You have to question that society’s values.”


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