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U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan submit to regular drug tests, but are not routinely tested for steroid use, a potential problem that surfaced recently after Italian police busted an international drug smuggling ring whose prospective clients included U.S. troops in Iraq.

Even while deployed to a combat zone, the services follow the general Defense Department practice of randomly testing 10 percent of a military unit’s members each month for drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and barbiturates, and designer drugs such as Ecstasy, representatives from each of the services said.

But testing for steroids is done only when commanders specifically request it, and to date, none have, said Col. Aaron Jacobs, chief deputy medical examiner at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology’s Forensic Toxicology office in Washington.

The Navy will administer the $300 drug test on a sailor if the command suspects steroid use, and after approval from the Navy’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention office in Millington, Tenn., spokeswoman Lt. Heidi Booth said.

On July 16, Italian police in Trieste arrested two Slovenian men and broke up a drug trafficking operation worth about $2.4 million per month. The ring mailed steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs to clients around the world, including U.S. troops in Iraq who ordered the drugs via the Internet, Italian investigators said.

The U.S. military’s mail security precautions might have prevented the drugs from being delivered; instead packages and envelopes, which did not have return mailing addresses, were sent back to the Italian post office. Postal officials alerted police after packages began to accumulate, said Mario Bo, head of the criminal division.

Officials at the U.S. military command in Iraq said Tuesday they would look into the issue, but by Friday still had no information to provide.

Urine samples aren’t tested downrange, but instead must be sent to a DOD Forensic Drug Testing Laboratories in the States, Jacobs said.

Several troops and commanders contacted earlier this week by Stars and Stripes said they were surprised by the news that deployed troops might be ordering steroids, but one said there is speculation that some soldiers are using.

“I go to the gym five, six days a week and have been continuously since I’ve been in country and there are people who have been doing the same who have gotten huge,” said the infantry soldier, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal from commanders and fellow troops.

“I mean bigger than an average person would gain in such a short time. There are rumors that float around, but it’s all hearsay. I, as well as others, suspect individuals to be taking steroids but couldn’t prove it.”

However, soldiers may be bulking up by using commercially available supplements.

High-protein shakes and supplements are incredibly popular downrange. The huge canisters of the powder, for example, sell rapidly the moment they hit shelves at several Army and Air Force Exchange Service locations.

The protein/health supplements are available at the majority of AAFES facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Djibouti, and are “an extremely popular item downrange, but also sell well here in Europe,” AAFES spokeswoman Debbie Byerly said.

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