The United States already has criminal laws governing the use of steroids, but they are almost never applied to elite professional or Olympic athletes. The athletes in the gym are the ones who are charged with the steroid violations. Any person convicted of using steroids under a federal law could face up to a year in prison on a first offense. If caught selling steroids, a stiffer penalty could be added.

The Dept. of Homeland Security cited custom agents made about 590 arrests in connection with such seizures. There is a widespread investigation continuing in connection with allegedly distributing steroids to professional athletes from Major League Baseball, the National Football Leagues and dozens of elite track and field athletes. Such cases have moved Congress to change laws and devise harsher penalties to curtail steroid use.

Remembering back to the "naturals" and "greats" in professional baseball -- the likes of Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron -- what must one think of the Mark McGuire baseball home run hitter acknowledging his using androstenedione during his 70 homer season in 1998? And presently, the newly announced confessions and accusations linking Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Marion Jones to steroid use. One can be sure that the Babe and Hank Aaron did not set their distinguished records building their bodies through chemistry.

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The real concern with the long term use of steroid drugs is that it produces very serious side effects. For example, the possibility of infertility in men, masculinization in women, acne, cysts, heart disease, liver cancer, hepatitis, growth deficiencies, baldness and personality alterations. The list continues on. Are the adverse effects really worth the risk?

Dr. Robert F. Weiss is a sports podiatrist specializing in foot and ankle surgery,

He was a member of the Medical Advisory Committee of the 1984 and

1988 Olympic Marathon Trials