As of the time of this writing (May, 2015) news reports are consumed with controversy over high profile incidents in many U.S. cities where unarmed people were met with alleged excessive force. These incidents have led to expressions of frustration and misunderstanding, particularly in poorer neighborhoods and among racial minorities, where relationships between police officers and residents are sometimes characterized by mutual distrust.
These incidents and ensuing protests have led to discussions around ways policing should be approached differently, and steps that should be taken to prevent mistreatment at the hands of people saddled with the overwhelming duty of protecting a community. While the causes and solutions to police brutality and misunderstanding are complex and multifaceted, some journalists have suggested a link related to substance abuse.
Police officers and steroid use
No one can deny that policing is one of the most stressful and dangerous jobs on earth, as it involves regular exposure to danger, either emotionally disturbed or intent on committing violent crimes. It is not hard to imagine someone subjected to such intense work become numb and traumatized.
They have to work long, late hours that are often highly stressful, performing jobs that require high levels of alertness and physical fitness. These factors may lead to some officers looking for help from performance enhancing substances.
In a 2010 article on AOL News, Lawrence Payne, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration noticed that many investigations on illegal steroid use involved police officers, calling it "a big problem" and "something we shouldn't ignore."
In one of the most high profile cases, Dr. Joseph Coalo had supplied as many as 248 police officers and firefighters in New Jersey with improperly written perceptions for muscle-building drugs with a high potential for misuse. Of the officers who had obtained steroids from Coalo, six were named in lawsuits alleging excessive force and civil rights violations. Others had been fired, dismissed, or arrested for off-duty infractions including assault and domestic abuse.
While finding a direct correlation could be difficult, there is no denying that increased aggression and diminished self-control is a very common side effect of steroid abuse.
Effects of steroids on behavior
One common side effect of steroid use is popularly known as "roid rage," a hyper aggressive, violent state of mind. Anabolic steroids artificially inflate muscle mass and strength by massively increasing the level of testosterone in the body. Increased testosterone can often have the effect of increasing aggressive, angry, and competitive emotions, increasing the desire to dominate.
When taken at too high levels, anabolic steroids frequently have a the side effect of dramatically increasing levels of irritability and aggression. There have been four studies that administered either steroids or a placebo to human volunteers and then tested for behavioral symptoms. In three of the studies, high steroid use dramatically increased feelings of irritability and aggression.
For reasons that are necessary to their work, officers carry weapons, are trained and authorized to use force when necessary, and frequently have to restrain or control people against their will. This profound reasonability requires an officer to be alert and deeply cognizant of his or her surroundings, soberly making judgments so force is only applied when it is absolutely necessary.
Increasing aggressive or angry emotions under such stressful situations, and with access to deadly weapons, even a mild elevation in levels of aggression might be a factor behind an unwise decision leading to a tragic loss of life, in addition to the harm it brings to the user. For these reasons, it may be valuable for police forces to educate their officers on the dangers of abusing steroids, as well as alternative ways of increasing strength and dealing with the stresses of their important work.