Steroid Shopping In The Dominican Republic

A receipt shows a charge of 569 pesos, or about $16, for 100 mg of testosterone. i i

One Dominican pharmacy charges 569 pesos, or about $16, for 100 mg of testosterone, this receipt shows. Mike Pesca/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mike Pesca/NPR
A receipt shows a charge of 569 pesos, or about $16, for 100 mg of testosterone.

One Dominican pharmacy charges 569 pesos, or about $16, for 100 mg of testosterone, this receipt shows.

Mike Pesca/NPR
A packet of Anabolex, the brand name for the steroid Dianabol. i i

One store didn't carry Primobolan but had Anabolex, the brand name for Dianabol — a steroid every bit as illegal in the U.S. as Primobolan is. It cost 10 pesos a pill, or about 30 cents. Mike Pesca/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Mike Pesca/NPR
A packet of Anabolex, the brand name for the steroid Dianabol.

One store didn't carry Primobolan but had Anabolex, the brand name for Dianabol — a steroid every bit as illegal in the U.S. as Primobolan is. It cost 10 pesos a pill, or about 30 cents.

Mike Pesca/NPR

Earlier this week, I walked into a farmacia on Francisco Richiez Street in La Romana, the third-largest city in the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic is where baseball superstar Alex Rodriguez says he got performance-enhancing drugs.

"Primobolan?" I asked the woman behind the counter. "Boli?" I added, using the street name. Greeted with only a confused look, I added in my pathetic Spanish, "Por forte" and made the Charles Atlas dual biceps-flex pose. "No, no," she said, seeming more confused than positive.

I noticed a copy of the local newspaper on the counter and leafed through to the sports section. Fortunately, the cover story was on the members of the Dominican national team, and I pointed to a picture of Alex Rodriguez.

"Alex Rodriguez — Primobolan ... testosterone?"

It was sometime between 2001 and 2003 that Rodriguez or his cousin purchased testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan from a Dominican pharmacy and proceeded to engage in actions that baseball Commissioner Bud Selig says "shamed the game."

At the time, there were weak rules against use of steroids in baseball, and no tests that could detect them.

Testosterone is legal and easily bought over the counter in the Dominican Republic. Primobolan, ESPN has reported, is not legally available over the counter at pharmacies in "the DR." But it seems no one told the pharmacists.

Back at the store, the owner overheard my broken conversation and chimed in: "Oooohhh, Primobolan. Yes, I read that Alex Rodriguez used that." He proceeded to tell me, in decent English, that when he read about the Rodriguez steroid story in the newspaper, he asked his employee if they ever carried Primobolan and was told they didn't currently have any.

"But you did at one time?" I said.

"Yes, we had it in." He turned and asked the woman in Spanish, then provided me with the answer in English: "We had it in two years ago."

"And it is legal?" I asked.

"Yes, all legal, no prescription."

We talked a little more about Rodriguez and the Dominican national team, and how the local baseball team, Azucareros del Este, named after the local sugar refinery, was doing. It turned out that big-leaguer Edwin Encarnacion lived right down the street. "His father's house is right there," the owner said, pointing.

"So, you don't have any Primobolan; do you have other steroids?" I asked.

I thought he answered, "Anobolics," as in anabolic steroids. I then discovered that the store carried Anabolex, which is the brand name for Dianabol — a steroid every bit as illegal in the U.S. as Primobolan is. They went for 10 pesos a pill, or about 30 cents.

The story was essentially the same in the four pharmacies I visited in La Romana. In this baseball-mad country, kids wearing hats of every major-league team play ball on the side streets, usually with two-by-fours instead of bats. I bought 100 mg of testosterone at one pharmacy for 569 pesos, or about $16. (I threw it in the trash before I left the Dominican Republican and didn't bring it back to the States.) The Farmax, a national chain located inside the Jumbo supermarket, was out of Primobolan, but employees said they could get it — and it was available without a prescription.

The Farmax was next to a GNC, which reminded me of Rodriguez's comment, "You know, back then you could walk in GNC and get four or five different products that today would probably trigger a positive test." To GNC, these comments were maddening. To commentators, it seemed laughable to compare steroids to what you could buy in a vitamin store.

But in the Dominican Republic, OTC drugs are pretty much the same thing as vitamins.

Dr. Pia Veras, who oversees the agency that regulates pharmaceuticals in the Dominican Republic, told ESPN that Primobolan, the brand name of methenolone acetate, "has not been registered and is not currently registered for legal sale in Dominican pharmacies — not now and the same applies for the years 2001 to 2003."

This may be true. But if pharmacies there will sell you Primobolan, if they tell customers it is legal to use, what is the actual force of the law? There are probably plenty of traffic laws on the books in the Dominican Republic that say motorbikes carrying two or sometimes three people can't whip around cars, that they have to stop at a red light until it turns green and that they must signal when changing lanes.

To which a biker would reply, "Lanes?"

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