This is a sad story. It’s about a man with an obsession – an obsession which is so out of control, it’s killing him. That man is Justin Rys, New Zealand’s most successful body builder. He has won a number of titles in his short life including Mr New Zealand, Mr Australasia and Mr Oceania.
To help build body mass, Mr Rys uses steroids, growth hormones and other drugs. The steroids have enlarged and weakened his heart, which has led to breathing difficulties. By the time he was 24, his heart was already so weak that he collapsed one day and had to be taken to hospital. He was told he could be dead within five years. But Mr Rys was a driven man and figured he had nothing to lose – and now he was going to die anyway. Once he got out of hospital, he continued using body building drugs and working out.
Fantasy (GHB and GBL)
One of the drugs he used was GBL a Class B drug with the street name – Fantasy. GBL promotes the body’s production of growth hormone and strengthens muscle tone. In the US, it is used as a treatment for cataplexy – a condition in which patients lose muscle tone and collapse. Mr Rys began using GBL at age 19. Eventually he was taking up to 120 mls a day – enough to kill a recreational user. (A recreational dose, inducing a pleasant sense of well-being, is about 2 – 4 mls.)
GBL was made illegal in New Zealand in 2002 by which time Mr Rys had already been using it for five years. In 2007, at the age of, he was arrested for importation and given a nine year sentence – reduced on appeal to seven years. He was released on parole in 2010. Soon after, he headed to Fiji where steroids and GBL could be legally purchased at chemist shops. Not surprisingly, his heart condition deteriorated rapidly. He returned to New Zealand after only two months, collapsed getting off the plane and spent 10 days in hospital. This time the specialists told him he probably had only 12 months to live.
This is seriously compulsive behaviour and one can’t help but wonder why someone would do this to themselves. The reality is that Mr Rys is driven by something stronger than drug addiction. He has muscle dysmorphic disorder, sometimes known as megarexia. When he looks in the mirror, he sees himself as small even though he looks massive compared to you and I. Megarexia is the opposite of anorexia in which those afflicted are so obsessed with their weight, they may starve themselves to death.
When Mr Rys got out of hospital, his heart specialist told him he had to lose weight – no easy task for someone with megarexia. But he tried and over the next six months he lost about 20kg. But losing weight made him depressed and he didn’t feel any better. He was going to die anyway so what difference did it make – the allure of the Fantasy came back to his mind.
It was then that Mr Rys discovered a beauty product called EzFlow Tip Blender which was 70% GBL, 30% alcohol and available on TradeMe This product is used by beauticians up and down the country and imported into New Zealand by a company in Whakatane. The owner of this company said she had been importing it since 2003 (after GBL was declared illegal). She even has a dangerous goods certificate from the Customs Service giving her permission.
After further investigation, Mr Rys found that GBL is also a naturally occurring by product in the manufacture of wine and most wines contain small quantities. It’s also used in a variety of industrial products. The fact that GBL is present in so many other products and EzFlow Tip Blender was being imported with the blessing of the Customs Service lulled Mr Rys into a false sense of hope – or fantasy – perhaps EzFlow Tip Blender was not an illegal product. So he imported large quantities for his personal use from the same company in the United States that the beauticians in New Zealand get it from.
One law for Justin Rys…
The Customs Service didn’t like that. Mr Rys was known to have a criminal record. So they prosecuted him and charged him with importation of a Class B drug. They didn’t charge beauticians who had been breaking the law for nine years; nor did they charge anyone importing wine containing GBL. As far as the Customs Service is concerned, there seems to be one law for Justin Rys and another one for everyone else using this product.
Mr Rys is currently on remand in Rimutaka prison. His health is so poor, he takes seven different medications. His heart is so weak, he gets short of breath and struggles to breathe at night. He has apnoea – he stops breathing when he falls asleep and requires an oxygen mask to assist his breathing. Without the mask, he almost suffocates in his sleep which wakes him up. This happens dozens of times a night.
Recently, the machine which drives the oxygen into the’ mask stopped working. After a distressing and sleepless night, Mr Rys advised the prison nursing staff that he was couldn’t breathe and needed a new machine. The nurses ignored him. Mr Rys advised nursing staff every day for the next 2½ weeks that he was suffocating in his sleep and needed help. He could easily have died during the night but the nurses didn’t seem to care. It was only when Mr Rys’ lawyer contacted the prison manager about the problem that any action was taken. The next day, he was taken into Hospital and given a new machine. Even with the mask, the fact remains that because of years of steroid and other drug use, he has severe health problems and could die at any time.
Mr Rys’ addiction is unusual. He has two drivers for his drug addiction – muscle dysmorphic disorder which is a life threatening mental health condition and the addictive nature of the drugs themselves. Making matters worse, he has never had any treatment. He had a few counselling sessions with a psychologist in prison and subsequently had one session with a psychiatrist at the Wellington hospital alcohol and drug service (CADS). Unfortunately, the psychiatrist didn’t think he needed to see him again and discharged him.
In other words, Mr Rys’ obsession with muscle size has not been understood as a life threatening condition by psychiatrists, let alone by the Courts or by Corrections Department psychologists. Instead of receiving treatment, he has been hounded by the Customs Service and punished by the justice system. Instead of being sent to a clinic where he could receive specialized care for his condition he has been sent to prison where his health needs are largely ignored.
Unusual or not
This is an unusual case – or is it. In fact there are hundreds of people in prison with alcohol and drug problems driven by mental health disorders that have never even been diagnosed, let alone treated. This is one of the reasons that so many offenders relapse and re-offend as soon as they get out – and why 52% of prisoners New Zealand are back inside within five years. Mr Rys’ case is not unusual. It’s just that he’s a big man with a big heart – and he stands out in a crowd, especially a crowd of beauticians.