U.S. law enforcement officials last week announced their largest crackdown ever on performance enhancing drugs.  The nationwide raid calls attention to what officials say are the dangers of steroid use among professional and amateur athletes. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) identified not only producers and sellers of steroids, but also overseas supplies, particularly from China.  VOA's Tony Budny has the story.

U.S. law officers made the largest seizure of steroids and raw materials ever, even as steroid abuse has become a nationwide concern. "This is the largest steroid investigation and take down in the history of the United States," said U.S. Attorney John Wood of Missouri, one of the prosecutors involved in 'Operation Raw Deal.'

On September 24, the DEA closed 56 labs nationwide, seized over 11 million doses of steroids and 242 kilograms of raw powder imported from China.  DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency worked with law enforcement officers in several other nations.

"We actually handed over as many as 37 investigative packages detailing parts of our investigation and all the things that we've been able to come up with about these companies and they've willingly accepted those," said Payne.

Accusations that Major League Baseball slugger Barry Bonds abused steroids have received considerable media coverage in the United States.  Fans and sports figures question the validity of Bonds' all time home run record.

Even as medical tests of professional cyclists like Floyd Landis have shown steroid use, there is evidence that the problem extends into youth sports.

High school baseball player Taylor Hooton took his own life in 2003 after steroid abuse. 

Don Hooton established a foundation in his son's name with the goal of educating young athletes about the dangers of steroids. "Out of the 15 boys rostered on Taylor's baseball team, over half of the kids were doing anabolic steroids," he said.

The DEA's Payne said cases like Hooton's motivate law officers. "I want that 17-year-old who is just on the cusp of athletic glory, who thinks he might need an increased edge, I want him to read the paper and I want him to think twice," he said.

Steroid-related message boards aimed at amateur athletes provided leads in the investigation.  Payne explains that officers joined discussions about how to make, buy and use the drugs. "What our agents had to do is they actually had to go in and infiltrate those message boards and websites and actually play along.  And through these communications, we were able to establish sources of supply."

Officials say they are treating those who produce and sell banned steroids as they would any other dealers of illicit drugs.