"The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is to write to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, voicing grave concerns about the growing abuse of anabolic steroids which are now being used by "tens of thousands" of bodybuilders and teenagers.
It had been estimated that there were tens of thousands of people using steroids to improve the results of training regimes to make themselves look more muscular, said Professor David Nutt, chairman of the council's technical committee. Steroid users, rather than heroin injectors, were now the main clients of needle exchanges, the committee heard.
Those who used anabolic steroids were often oblivious of the risks, which included acne, breast enlargement, sterility, liver tumours and hepatitis, the council chairman, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, said. He added: "It can also make the testicles wither - which is probably not what the users want."
The latest figures show that 200,000 people in Britain have tried anabolic steroids, with 42,000 saying they have used them in the last year and 20,000 in the previous month. Home Office controls on anabolic steroids are aimed at suppliers and traffickers and it is not an offence to possess them to enhance performance.
Lord Victor Adebowale, chief executive of the drugs charity Turning Point, said elite athletes knew what they were doing using steroids, but their increasing use by boys as young as 12 and 13 was extremely worrying. "They do it because they want to be in boy bands and get girls," he said.
The advisory council, which was meeting in public for the first time in its 36-year history, is also to press the government to ban 26 anabolic steroids currently proscribed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which controls the use of illicit substances in sport. Council members said action was needed in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics."