Published: 10 May 2017


Sentence handed down after steroid operation uncovered

The orchestrator of an online steroid operation has been imprisoned for two years for illegal supply of medicines.

Joshua Francis Townshend was sentenced in Christchurch District Court for advertising, possessing and supplying prescription medicines.

Townshend, pleaded guilty to 129 breaches of the Medicines Act 1981, including possession, advertising and sale of anabolic steroids, clenbuterol, and related medicines illegally used for sports performance and image enhancement. A period of the offending occurred while Townshend was on home detention.

The court had earlier heard that Townshend operated a large-scale online steroid business under the name He attempted to distance himself from the operation by using bank accounts held by others to receive funds, using false names to register websites and Facebook pages, and by not identifying himself to customers.

The medicines were packed in bottles and vials and labelled under Townshend’s brand name, “APS”. The products he sold were not of a pharmaceutical standard and their lack of quality assurance posed a real risk to those using them.

Townshend was blatant in his advertising and promotion of the medicines. Medsafe estimates that over one year Townshend supplied the equivalent of 2,100 10ml bottles of clenbuterol and approximately 2,400 units of other medicines which were primarily 10ml vials of anabolic steroids for injection.

A verbal warning to Townshend from the Ministry of Health in March 2013 was ignored.

“Townshend put the public’s health at risk by supplying prescription medicines outside the regulatory system.  That system was put in place to protect the public by assuring medicines met appropriate levels of safety, efficacy and quality,” said Derek Fitzgerald, Manager of Medsafe’s Compliance Management Branch.

“He was supplying prescription medicines to consumers who had not received proper medical assessment and advice.”

Mr Fitzgerald said the prosecutions should serve as a warning that offending that poses a high risk to the public will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

Anyone who has used medicines ordered from or used steroids from other black market sources should seek advice from their medical practitioner, Mr Fitzgerald says.

Please see attached background information regarding the case, Medsafe and the law.

Background information

What were the 129 charges Townshend was convicted of?

  • Four charges of advertising new medicines (section 20(2) of the Medicines Act 1981).
  • One hundred and twenty-one charges of selling a new medicine without the consent of the Minister of Health (section 20(2) of the Medicines Act 1981).
  • Four charges of possession of prescription medicine without reasonable excuse (section 43(1) of the Medicines Act 1981).
What is the danger from anabolic steroids and clenbuterol?

Potential adverse effects from the use of anabolic steroids include: stunted growth (if used by those under 21 years old), virilisation of women, worsening of heart failure, renal failure, and hypertension.

When used in high doses, risks include liver tumours and liver toxicity, abnormal cholesterol levels, and psychiatric disturbances such as depression, aggression and hypomania.

Potential adverse effects from the use of clenbuterol include: abnormalities of heart rhythm, spasm of arteries of the heart and reduced circulating potassium levels.

By supplying prescription and unapproved medicines outside the regulatory system, Townshend put the public’s health at risk because:

  • Prescription medicines were made available to the public unsupervised by a doctor or pharmacist with no consideration as to their safety and suitability for the consumer. Prescription medicines are potent substances used for conditions that require a thorough and effective diagnosis by a medical professional.
  • The quality of the medicines did not meet pharmaceutical standards leaving the consumer exposed to risks such as infection, overdose and the possibility of exposure to unknown contaminants.
  • People using anabolic steroids without appropriate medical advice face a range of adverse effects. These may not be identified at an early stage and appropriate medical intervention may not be provided in a timely manner. This delay can lead to more serious and permanent complications related to this use of these medicines.
What is Medsafe?

Medsafe is the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority. It is a business unit of the Ministry of Health and is the authority responsible for the regulation of therapeutic products in New Zealand. These products include medicines and related products, medical devices and controlled drugs used as medicines.

What is the Medicines Act 1981?

The Medicines Act 1981 provides that prescription medicines, restricted medicines and pharmacy only medicines can only be supplied through a licensed pharmacy or by an authorised health professional.

The Act regulates the manufacture, sale and distribution of medicines, medical devices and related products. The framework of the Act is designed to ensure that consumers receive medicines that are safe, effective and of an acceptable quality. The Act sets out legislative requirements for the sale, advertising, distribution, manufacture and importation of medicines.

Medsafe is responsible for administering the Medicines Act 1981:

The Medicines Act is accompanied by the Medicines Regulations 1984:

Has Medsafe prosecuted other people for similar offences?

Since March 2009, twelve other people have been convicted as a result of prosecutions by the Ministry of Health under the Medicines Act 1981, for importing, possessing and supplying performance- and image-enhancing drugs.

The scale and nature of the offending is varied, as have been the sentences imposed on those convicted.

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