Although there are some economists who foolishly question the effectiveness of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDS), sound medical research shows that PEDs do indeed enhance performance. It is important to emphasize the word "sound," because some of the initial research into PEDs in the 1970s was sabotaged by Tony Fitton, who has since been dubbed "The Godfather of Steroids" by Sports Illustrated. As Charles Yesalis, a leading expert about steroids, told SI, "Denying that these drugs worked is still to some extent damaging (the medical community's) credibility today."
Not only do steroids enhance performance, but research recently conducted by the Department of Integrative Medical Biology at Sweden's Umea University provides evidence that steroids improve athletes' performances even after those athletes discontinue their steroid usage. A Wall Street Journal article about the study begins with the provocative question, "Should athletes who take steroids be banned for life?" I think that the answer to that question should be "Yes," for two reasons:
1) Taking illegal--and otherwise harmful--substances to gain a competitive advantage puts other athletes in a no-win situation of either having to risk breaking the law while endangering their long term health or forgoing the opportunity to have a fair chance to be the very best at their sport. This is a serious offense and therefore an athletic "death penalty" in the form of a lifetime ban is quite appropriate.
2) If it is true that taking steroids confers an advantage that lasts even after usage is discontinued then there is no way to level the playing field between reformed steroids users and those who have never taken steroids.
Athletes have already proven that they will disregard the likelihood that steroid usage will cause them longterm health problems but if they knew that being caught just once would end their careers forever that would serve as a much more effective deterrent than the slap on the wrist penalties that most sports leagues, federations and governing bodies currently employ.