Steroid Nation Alex rossi sky news senior correspondent

Inside the nation's underground steroid labs - a Sky News exclusive

The sound of the garage door creaking open rips through the rumbling hum of the nearby traffic revealing a portal into the hidden world of illegal steroid production. I see a man wearing a protective lab suit - it is dark outside and he looks like an apparition backlit by the fluorescent lighting inside - beckoning us to enter quickly.

Testosterone Propionate - a muscle building drug which replicates human sex hormones is injected by the user

Inside the garage, which is situated in a quiet residential area somewhere in the West Midlands, plastic sheeting has been hung from the rafters in an attempt to create a sterile laboratory.

The labs pop up and then disappear in attempt to stay one step ahead of the police

To one side, against the back wall, there is a rickety wooden table with a smorgasbord of test tubes, beakers and other scientific paraphernalia. There are also bags of white powder and bottles of oil. These are the raw materials - ordered over the Internet from China - that are needed to make anabolic steroids. I soon find out that the expertise for this criminal venture has not been learnt at a university, or even in a school science class but has been passed down by word of mouth.

None of this matters to the customers, who will inject the testosterone propionate that is being made here into their bodies. The users, who are predominantly young men on a quest for bigger and better physiques, do not care about quality control. They just want results in a society where physical appearance is increasingly taking centre stage.

A lab like this can make several thousand pounds a month

It has taken months of negotiations through a middle man to get the group, who run this laboratory, to talk to us and only then on the condition we do not know their true identities. This is, of course, hardly surprising. Making black market steroids is highly illegal but as the people involved in the production process tell us it is well worth the risk.

"The fitness industry is growing. Everybody sees all this stuff on the TV and wants to look good so we're getting busier and busier. More and more people want to start up their own labs but they don't have the knowledge of where to get the raws, the powders, so they come to us."
"We can make up to between £15000 - 20000 every month and I know people who make us look like chump change. People who are making up to £150,000 a month."

It is not clear how many black market laboratories there are in the UK but what is patently obvious is that demand for anabolic steroids is growing all the time. The use of muscle building substances has for many people become ordinary.

For many young men the weights are not enough to get the results they want - enter steroids

Once upon a time, when I was a little boy in the late 70s and early 80s, steroids were the preserve of power athletes, bodybuilders and Hollywood stars. They strutted across our screens with their cartoon muscled up physiques and we, by and large, believed.

That was then. It was a time of relative innocence when people - especially the young - suspended disbelief and thought 'if I only touch that dumbbell I too will grow to outlandish proportions.'

But time has eroded that myth and the 'secret sauce' that helps ordinary men defy mediocre genetics and transform into sculpted Greek gods is no longer niche. It is very much part of the mainstream.

So, why has this happened? An amateur psychologist would point to the growth of the media - think Hollywood, reality TV, online tabloid news sources, celebrity culture - and they would probably be right. That imagery, an assault on young men which makes them feel they should look a certain way, is perhaps no different now to what women have been dealing with for decades. There are no national statistics for the number of people using anabolic steroids but anecdotally it is clear that ever larger numbers of men are prepared to risk their health to look good in a society where body beautiful has become more and more important.

As part of our investigation we go to meet and talk with steroid users. Louis Davies is in his early twenties. He is small but ripped up. He loves lifting but he also loves what steroids do to his body.

What strikes me as soon as we meet is how open he is about his use of 'anabolics'

As we talk there is no sense of the confessional, it is just matter of fact, as though injecting bootleg muscle building drugs into your gluteus maximus is as normal as drinking a glass of water. He is also well aware of the risks, but Louis's fear of looking small is far worse than the potential horror of any side effects, such as heart problems, or liver failure.

"I don't ever want to feel like I'm second best. In terms of widespread it's all over. Every single gym has it. A lot of people get acne but I'm not an acne prone person. I have had a bit of 'gyno', which is inflammation of the nipple, but I got rid of that with some tablets."
Louis's biggest fear is looking small

When we meet Louis he is getting ready to go out on the town with his mate Ben. Both men are doing sets of press ups and dumbbell exercises in front of a mirror. Their aim is to push blood into their muscles and get a 'pump' so they look as big and full as possible in the pubs and clubs of Leamington Spa.

Getting a 'pump'

Ben is also fully versed on the dangers of steroid use. His motivation to use them is simple.

"I take steroids because I reached a point where I felt I couldn't get any bigger or stronger. Lots of guys around me, you see them all the time just getting bigger and stronger, it's just a case of you feel frustrated and you constantly think 'What if? What if?' all the time."

Although possessing steroids is legal producing them with intent to supply can lead to sentences of up to 14 years in prison. The risk for the user is that, for the most part, they do not really know what they are buying, or putting into their bodies. Some experts fear the UK is facing a health time bomb. None of this though matters to the producers and dealers. With big money to be made they will keep pumping out anabolic steroids to feed the UK's growing habit.

All photos by Alex Rossi except 'Fitness dumbbells training' by markusspiske

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