Evaluation of performance-enhancing drugs seized by Israeli enforcement agencies 2012-2017: Implications for policy and regulatory change

Hagit Bonny-Noach, Ronny Berkovitz, Barak Shapira

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Illicit performance-enhancing substances are used mostly by athletes to enhance performance in sports, and by bodybuilders to gain muscle and body mass. Among performance-enhancing substances, the most common and known substances are anabolic-androgenic steroids, which are associated with a range of short and long-term adverse medical and psychiatric effects. While the sale and distribution of performance-enhancing substances are considered criminal offenses per the Israeli local pharmacy ordinance, the use and personal possession of these substances are not. Presently, the Division of Enforcement and Inspection of the Israel Ministry of Health cooperates with police and customs agents in performance-enhancing substance-related enforcement activities, which chiefly include seizures carried out at suspicious sites. Moreover, the Division of Enforcement and Inspection provides professional guidance, lab analysis services, and expert opinions on the toxicological and pharmaceutical nature of products seized. This paper presents a contemporary sub-analysis of registered seizures of performance-enhancing substances carried-out by Israel enforcement agencies. The main aim of this analysis is to characterize current patterns of performance-enhancing substances, thus providing the possibility of better assessment of current enforcement and health policy. Methods: A sub-analysis of 712 seizures of performance-enhancing substances seized by Israeli enforcement authorities during a six-year period ranging from January 2012 to December 2017. Results: This study demonstrates that Israel faces a challenge regarding the importation and distribution of illicit performance-enhancing substances. The most common substances seized were anabolic androgenic steroids (N = 539). Most seizures were carried out in the central mail processing sites, (38.4%), followed by seizures in private premises such as homes and warehouses (29.6%). Significant differences were found between anabolic-androgenic steroids and other substances, relating to place and year of seizure. Among seizures with known sources (N = 355), the most frequent geographic region given as the source of substances was Eastern Europe (47.6%), followed by East Asia (24.8%), West Asia (19.4%), and Western Europe (5.9%). Bulgaria was the country with the highest frequency of seizures (N = 71) followed by Jordan (N = 45), Thailand (N = 37) and Moldova (N = 36). Significant regional differences were found based on the variables of gender, place of seizure, and type of substance. The most frequent month of seizures was August (N = 129), followed by July (N = 119), and June (N = 118). Conclusions: While data analysis focused on the supply side of the performance-enhancing substances market, the high number of seizures of performance-enhancing substances in Israel represents evidence of the existence of a high demand and a large consumer base for these products. Consequently, there is a need for developing further enforcement, treatment, and prevention policies that do not currently exist in Israel. Policymakers should consider prioritizing law enforcement action and incentivizing intelligence sharing to monitor suspected shipment sources and specific points of entry. Additionally, the results demonstrate that there is a need in reforming the penal law to discourage the use of performance-enhancing substances. Similar measures have already been applied in countries like Spain, Italy, and Belgium. Furthermore, policy-makers should consider enhancing health ministry agencies with a higher enforcement capacity by giving them further investigative and inquiry authority. Due to the troubling magnitude of the phenomenon, policymakers should also prioritize educational and prevention strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14
JournalIsrael Journal of Health Policy Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - 4 May 2020


  • Androgenic anabolic steroids
  • Doping
  • Enforcement
  • Israel
  • Performance-enhancing substances
  • Seizures

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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