In Oscar Pistorius Murder Case, Possible Steroid Use Under Scrutiny

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Oscar Pistorius
South Africa's Oscar Pistorius

The discovery of drugs at the home of Oscar Pistorius, the Parlaympic and Olympic sprinter who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, is raising new questions about the role steroids might have played in the tragedy.

Reports indicated that police found a cache of drugs in the bedroom of Pistorius’s home in the capital city of Pretoria.

"The drugs and syringes were found shortly after the house was sealed off,” said an unnamed senior officer to the Times Live, a South African newspaper. “Crime scene investigators were searching a room linked to the crime when they found them.”

The drugs are being subjected to laboratory tests at the University of the Free State, as are blood and urine samples from Pistorius himself. It is unclear at this point whether anabolic steroids are among the drugs reportedly discovered by police.

Even if that turns out to be the case, experts are skeptical as to whether steroids could have been a major factor in this tragic incident.

“The concept of ‘roid rage’ comes up in the media often, but it’s not a medical term,” William Llewellyn, a scientist who is the CEO of Molecular Nutrition and author of "Anabolics," a book now in its 10th edition that examines performance drugs used by athletes, said.

“In the medical community there is no data suggesting that anabolic steroids affects someone’s behavior to that kind of extreme. Hormones can affect your mood, so it’s possible to become a little more irritable or a little more aggressive.”

Abraham Morgentaler, founder of Men’s Health Boston and author of "Testosterone for Life," said that the illicit drugs often taken by athletes have little in common with medically sanctioned testosterone treatments.

“Medical grade testosterone does not cause anything similar to steroid rage,” he said. “Those are anecdotal stories about men who use illicit or illegal steroids at levels that are very high. What’s important to understand is these illicit steroids have undergone little or no testing on humans, and the levels these athletes try and use them at are in many cases up to 50 times the normal testosterone levels seen in men.”

Pistorius, 26, was born without fibulas, or calf bones, and has had both legs amputated below the knee. He was the first double-amputee to compete in the Olympic Games when he made it to the semifinals in the 400-meter race last year. He races with carbon-fiber prosthetic blades.

The athlete’s girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, 29, was killed on the morning of Feb. 14. She had locked herself inside Pistorius’s bathroom when he fired four times through the door. She suffered three bullet wounds, and Pistorius claims she died in his arms as he carried her downstairs.

Pistorius stands accused of premeditated murder, but he said in a statement read by his attorney on Tuesday that he had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder.

In court, Pistorius broke down in tears several times.

“I fail to understand how I could be charged with murder as I had no intention to kill my girlfriend," said the statement.

Pistorius was known to have a bit of a reckless personality well before the Feb. 14 tragedy; there have also been reports of previous domestic disturbances at his home.

It is yet unclear if Pistorius might have used illicit steroids, and experts say the drug’s impacts on his mood would be hard to predict at this point.

“Millions of people use these drugs. It’s possible Pistorius could have been using steroids; it’s very common in competitive sports,” said Llewellyn.

“Unfortunately, every once in a while someone is going to commit a heinous act and they could be using one of any number of illegal substances. It’s very salacious, so it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that steroids played a role.”

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