Is a user of performance-enhancing drugs a cheater, an opportunist or simply a realist in today's sports world? That's a long-standing debate, and it appears to have no end in sight. Regardless where you stand on the issue, though, it is no longer debatable that performance-enhancing drugs touch nearly every sport we watch and care about. And perhaps the most recognizable face of the "juiced" era belongs to Jose Canseco, the former big league slugger who has forged a second career by going public with charges of widespread steroid use in major league baseball. To the chagrin of his brethren in the game, he has named names. More often than not as the steroids story has unfolded, Canseco's allegations have proved accurate.
In his tell-all book, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big," Canseco confessed to using illegal steroids and human growth hormone from his first big league season to his last in 2001. This spring, Canseco's name surfaced among several athletes caught up as customers in a government crackdown on Internet sales of performance-enhancing drugs.
True to form, he admitted that he purchased drugs online through Applied Pharmacy Services. The two owners of the company based in Mobile, Ala., have been indicted by an Albany, N.Y., grand jury. Canseco recently shared with ESPN.com his firsthand experiences buying drugs online.
ESPN.com: Are reports accurate in saying that you purchase drugs through Applied Pharmacy?
CANSECO: I'm sure I have. Absolutely. And I think they make you go through a process, through a doctor and prescription and all that, sure They have a Web site, and you basically contact a doctor and they prescribe whatever anti-aging products from what I know, they are an anti-aging type clinic.
ESPN.com: Was it a legitimate prescription?
CANSECO: Yeah, definitely. It sure was.
ESPN.com: Was it your personal doctor?
CANSECO: No, it is their doctor that they prescribe to you.
ESPN.com: So they give you a doctor's name, and he writes a prescription?
CANSECO: Yeah, I guess.
ESPN.com: That is done online?
CANSECO: No, you do it over the phone. You make the contact online and then they connect you on the phone, and you go through this whole information-type deal and speak to the doctor.
ESPN.com: But you never met the doctor?
CANSECO: No, no.
ESPN.com: Does the doctor ask why you need the stuff?
CANSECO: Oh yeah, there is a huge questionnaire you have to fill out It is huge, maybe 100 questions. It is very thorough.
ESPN.com: What product did you get from them?
CANSECO: I think it was testosterone It was testosterone and Deca-Durabolin, which is for joint pain.
ESPN.com: Why did you need that?
CANSECO: Oh god, everybody knows I've been using it for such a long time. Once you get off of it, your body kind of depletes from it and you tend to have low testosterone levels. They made an analysis of it, and like 40 percent of most adult men over 40 have low testosterone levels.
ESPN.com: So once you use testosterone, you tend to have low levels later if you don't keep using?
CANSECO: Right. You just try to bring your levels back to normal, really.
ESPN.com: How long have you been using testosterone?
CANSECO: Oh god, since I was playing baseball, I was using it. It is no secret
ESPN.com: Sounds like you may have to use it the rest of your life?
CANSECO: I don't know. You check your levels now and then, and if your levels are lower than average, yeah, obviously. Or if you're feeling a little weak or have muscle atrophy, you can't sleep at night -- definitely.
ESPN.com: Where do you get your levels checked? Or how do you have it done?
CANSECO: I have had them checked -- local doctors. There are a million anti-aging clinics where you can have them checked. But basically, even if you don't have them checked, there are symptoms to it.
ESPN.com: In your case, what were the symptoms or issues?
CANSECO: Oh god, people don't know this, but I have had six major surgeries. So it would be like joint pain. It could be atrophy of muscle. It could be weakness, sleeplessness. It could be a combination of everything.
ESPN.com: What anti-aging clinic do you use?
CANSECO: That [Applied Pharmacy] is the one I was using. I used them once or twice. They supply you with supplement or whatever you need -- like four months, six months, eight months, whatever you need.
ESPN.com: Did a lot of athletes know about Applied?
CANSECO: I don't know. I can only speak for myself. I can't speak for them.
ESPN.com: So nobody suggested it; you just found it on your own?
CANSECO: Lot of times. They have pop-ups that come on the computer screen. That is how they advertise. I think it was a pop-up or something.
ESPN.com: Have you dealt with other anti-aging clinics?
CANSECO: That is the only one I dealt with. I have talked to other ones just in case I need to replenish. There are a million here in L.A. that you can just walk into, really. I'm thinking about doing that.
ESPN.com: Have you done that, too?
CANSECO: No, but I am going to. Definitely.
ESPN.com: How do you find which one to go to?
CANSECO: Word of mouth. Talk to people. In L.A., about 80 percent [of the people] are involved with anti-aging clinics, human growth hormone, supplements, a combination of steroids and human growth hormone. It is like the fountain of youth.
ESPN.com: So it isn't illegal if you have a need?
CANSECO: Right, exactly. If you fit in the category of they put you through a whole questionnaire, and if you fit that category, the doctor gives you a prescription and that is it. It is very simple.
ESPN.com: Any surprise that yourself and pro athletes Evander Holyfield and Gary Matthews Jr. would be identified as Applied Pharmacy customers?
CANSECO: It is completely legal with a prescription, and they basically give you certain amounts per time. So I don't see the big deal in it, especially for men in their 40s. I recommend it to every guy who is in their 40s.
ESPN.com: The doctor would know what your levels are, right?
CANSECO: No, unless you do a blood sample. But they're going on symptoms. That is what they are going on -- and, of course, surgeries and this and that. Who was the guy just caught at the airport with them? Sylvester Stallone. I'm sure he had a prescription for it. It is not illegal with a prescription. Out here, it is huge. They're making millions with it. Human growth hormone is known right now with certain mixtures to be [beneficial]. There's no hiding from that. That is just a fact.
ESPN.com: Have you seen any long-term effects?
CANSECO: There are none. There hasn't been any human testing for long term to verify that, but so far -- especially in the case of human growth [hormone] -- they say you can use that indefinitely. We actually produce it. And when you go through puberty, you lose about 60 percent of it. So what we want to do is maintain that level of 100 percent during life span. The older you get, the more human growth hormone you actually lose in the body, so you want to maintain it.
Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.