CHECK out one of the gazillion Web sites peddling steroids and human growth hormone, and it’s a wonder everybody isn’t on the stuff. Lose weight and build muscle – in some cases, without even exercising. Erase those ugly wrinkles and look younger. Get more energy. Maybe even sleep better. Or so they say. As any kid who ever bought sea monkeys knows, things that sound too good to be true usually are. There’s no doubt steroids and human growth hormones can be beneficial when used carefully and properly. But when abused or used for purposes for which they weren’t intended, there’s no telling what can happen. The worst part is, it’ll be years, maybe even decades, before we know all the surprises that are in store. “Ten, 20 years from now, we could have a whole population of bizarre medical problems we never thought of because we’ve been playing with people’s hormones,” said Dr. Todd Schlifstein, an assistant professor at NYU’s School of Medicine. “We’re going to have a whole population with huge heads and huge hands and feet because their joints are overgrown.” Authorities in upstate New York and Rhode Island are targeting distribution networks they say might be responsible for steroid and human growth hormone sales nationwide. Nine people already have been arrested, and at least two dozen could face charges by the time the investigations end. Some high-profile athletes, including Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. and boxer Evander Holyfield, have been linked to the inquiry through drug shipment records. But this isn’t the latest BALCO, an ongoing case that required Barry Bonds, Marion Jones, Jason Giambi and others to testify before a federal grand jury. Prosecutors in the latest case don’t really care who’s putting what in their bodies. They’re after the pushers, the lab-coated equivalents of the coke dealers hanging out at the end of the block. Lest anyone think differently, there’s not much difference. Performance-enhancing drugs are just that. Drugs. “The abuse of performance-enhancing drugs is really an extension of the broader concept of drug abuse,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Just as LSD and cocaine can fry your brains, HGH and steroids might destroy your body, too. Lyle Alzado was a beast in his playing days, a fearsome, snarling 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds. By the time he died in 1992 at 43, brain cancer had eaten away all that muscle, leaving little more than a shell. Steroids were to blame, Alzado said. He started taking them in 1969 and spent as much as $30,000 a year on them. He also said he took human growth hormone. “My last wish?” Alzado said before he died. “That no one else ever dies this way.” Or endures the living hell that mark the days of some East German athletes. East German officials were determined to step out of the Soviet Union’s Cold War shadow, using sport to prove their country’s might. They began a systematic doping plan in the 1970s. Some 10,000 athletes were doped – most having no idea the drugs they were being given were harmful. Many were still-developing teenagers. It wasn’t until livers failed or spines twisted or, worse, children were born with birth defects, that the East German athletes realized the full horror of what had been done to them. The powerful steroids that were given out like vitamins might have helped win Olympic gold medals, but they came with a devastating price. Numb limbs, gynecological problems, miscarriages, breasts in men – at least one female athlete had a sex change. Sure, the science behind performance-enhancing drugs is evolving and is more sophisticated than it was 30 years ago. That’s what makes catching cheaters so tough. There’s always some new potion in the pipeline. And there’s always someone willing to try it. Take some pills or shots, and magically bulk up, slim down or look as if you’ve found the fountain of youth. Maybe you boost the batting average enough to get a fat new contract. Maybe you bench press enough to be the envy of everybody at the gym. But remember there is a price for everything, even if it isn’t paid right away. “Nothing,” Schlifstein said, “is cost free and risk free.” Including shipping and handling. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!