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Int J Drug Policy. 2017 Feb;40:6-15. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2016.07.009. Epub 2016 Aug 27.

Social suppliers: Exploring the cultural contours of the performance and image enhancing drug (PIED) market among bodybuilders in the Netherlands and Belgium.

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School of Social Sciences, Birmingham City University, Birmingham, United Kingdom. Electronic address:
Doctorate in Cultural and Global Criminology at University of Kent and the Universität, Hamburg, United Kingdom.



This paper explores the understudied phenomenon of performance and image enhancing drug (PIED) markets by examining the structure and formation of the market for PIEDs among bodybuilders in the Netherlands and Belgium. This article specifically seeks to account for individual reasons and motivations for dealing PIEDs within these bodybuilding subcultures. Understanding illicit PIED markets is important for policy decisions as knowledge on the production and distribution of these substances may assist in designing law enforcement efforts, harm reduction initiatives and treatment options.


This article draws on two years of fieldwork in various bodybuilding settings, 47 semi-structured interviews with individuals who are directly or indirectly involved in the PIED market and 64 PIED dealing cases initiated by criminal justice agencies in the Netherlands and Belgium.


The data indicates that PIED dealing groups and individuals are often driven by motivations stemming from their social and cultural embeddedness in the bodybuilding subculture. Specifically, these PIED dealers are 'over-socialized' into the structure and culture of bodybuilding and follow the cultural scripts that come with their group affiliation and organization. As a result of the cultural context in which these transactions occur, PIED dealing networks among bodybuilders in the Netherlands and Belgium are more likely to consist of friends or 'friends of friends' tied together by threads of collective meaning found within the bodybuilding subculture.


We argue that efforts seeking to explain the structure, formation and motivations of illicit PIED dealing must learn to appreciate how culture mediates structural forces and thereby influences individual and collective action. Policy makers, health care professionals and other relevant parties should consider a plurality of factors (social, economic and cultural) when designing and evaluating PIED-related interventions such as law enforcement efforts, harm reduction initiatives and treatment options.

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