WASHINGTON -- Drug dealers, coaches or athletes who distribute steroids could now face harsher sentences after the government made an "emergency" change to its federal sentencing guidelines.
The enhanced penalties apply to defendants who sell steroids or masking agents to an athlete and to coaches who use their positions of trust to entice athletes into using
The change -- made by the U.S. Sentencing Commission on a temporary basis Monday -- would typically result in a 25 percent increase in sentences.
At Congress' direction, the commission bypassed the normally lengthy approval process for such a change, making what it called a "temporary, emergency amendment" so the penalties could go into effect immediately. Had it followed the usual process, that would not have happened until Nov. 1.
Commission members could decide at their April 5 meeting to make the change permanent or alter the penalties. In that case, the emergency rule would remain in place until Nov. 1.
The sentencing guidelines are advisory and provide federal judges with a complicated mathematical formula for determining punishment. The formula takes into account several factors, including a defendant's prior criminal record and the amount of drugs involved.
In 2004 and again in 2005, Congress ordered the sentencing commission to increase penalties for distribution of anabolic steroids in response to baseball's steroids scandal.
As a result, steroids are now considered a "Schedule III" drug, on par with the common painkiller Vicodin or the tranquilizer ketamine. Cocaine and heroin are considered "Schedule I" drugs.