Report: Steroid Use Becoming Common Among Opera Singers

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Paul Nelson, KSL NewsradioYou've heard of athletes using performance enhancing drugs. But these kinds of drugs are being used in more fields than just sports. A recent CNN article says steroid use among opera singers is becoming more common.

In the world of opera, they have what are called "the money notes;" for example, the high "B" at the end of Nessun Dorma.

Utah Opera Artistic Director Christopher McBeth says, "If you can't do that on a regular basis, then no, you don't get to do that role."

McBeth says one bad note can make singers lose work, depending on who runs the opera. He says the pressure to perform can be so great, some singers will go on stage, even if they shouldn't. "If they're sick, they might make the decision to take a steroid shot or medication," he says.

The steroid in question is called cortisone, and McBeth says most singers know to stay away from it. He says, "You may need to take it at the time when you may not be using your voice as healthfully as you would normally do, and there is the possibility of doing some damage to your voice."

Otolaryngologist Josh Bradley says you could see more symptoms than that.

Bradley says, "Weight gain would be a significant one. You can get osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones and a weakening of the bones, which could eventually lead to some hip problems. You can also have some mental status changes."

It should be said that cortisone is not the kind of steroid we normally think of, which builds muscle mass.

Bradley says, "For vocal chords, if you're repetitively using them, then they kind of bang together too much, and it produces some swelling. The steroid could reduce that swelling."

However, McBeth says young singers in other cities can't really be picky with the jobs they take, and they can't always to sing. "That's very stressful, the idea of, when you're growing your career that if you turn down a contract, you may not be offered another one."

McBeth says this kind of substance abuse does not happen at the Utah Opera, and the supportive nature of the company actually draws singers here. "Personally, I would never, ever ask a performing artist to do that. I know what the possibilities could be, so, it's just too risky."

McBeth says he takes exception to a recent CNN article claiming steroid use, as well as use of alcohol and cocaine, is rampant among opera singers across the country. He says drug use is no more common in the opera world than in any other field.

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