Time to Act on High School Steroid Abuse

By Steve Adubato, Ph.D. Acting Governor Dick Codey announced this week his plan to have the state start testing high school students for steroid use. Clearly, the focus is on steroid use and abuse on the part of athletes looking to get that alleged special edge to help them get bigger, stronger and faster — A perceived edge that may help them secure athletic scholarships to college, at the risk of destroying their bodies and sending all the wrong signals about high school sports and the spirit of fair play. The issue of steroid use among high school athletes is nothing new. I remember doing a program on public television well over a decade ago dealing with this subject. High school coaches, athletes and others (some of them videotaped in shadow to protect their identity) candidly talked about how common steroid use was and how easy it was to get access to these drugs. It is a disgrace that it has taken this long to create something called the Governor’s Task Force on Steroid Use and Prevention. For too many years, those involved in high school sports, including coaches, players and parents, have stuck their heads in the sand and acted like none of this was going on. No one has pushed the idea of testing of high school athletes until Dick Codey raised the issue. At a recent summit on steroid use held at Rutgers University, Codey stated, “Education must be the cornerstone of what we do, but we also need some form of testing. Testing will serve as a natural deterrent to help rule out the problem¦I„m not sure if it„s a viable or even a good idea to test everyone. That I will leave up to my task force.” It is unclear whether the testing program will be mandatory or voluntary. It is also unclear who will pay for the test, which costs between $100-$150 to examine the urine of a particular athlete or student. Even though Governor Codey is advocating the testing of athletes and non-athletes, the problem is clearly much worse for those participating in organized sports. According to Dr. Lynn Goldberg, a professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University who spoke at the Rutgers event, back in 1993 about 1 in 45 athletes used steroids. However, more recent research has concluded that 1 in 16 high school athletes use steroids or human growth hormones. Clearly the problem is getting a lot worse in a hurry and something drastic must be done. Steroid use and abuse can cause strokes, sterility, mood swings, heart attacks and cancer. We„re talking high school kids, the vast majority of whom have little if any chance to get a scholarship to college, much less play in the pros, abusing steroids that at a minimum could prevent them from having children and at worst, could kill them. However, the problem of steroid use goes beyond young men in high school. More and more high school girls are using steroids to either “slim down” or improve their athletic performance, according to many who testified at this recent conference. And what about the parents who are so focused on their kids getting scholarships that they on some level either condone, if not encourage, the use of steroids by their own kids? Where does their responsibility lie? Sometimes, steroid use can even cause death. According to Donald Hooton, Sr., whose 17-year-old son Taylor, a baseball player from Texas who used steroids, became depressed and ultimately committed suicide, testing is a key to preventing something like this happening in the future. According to Hooton, who spoke at the conference, “Without testing, how do you know if young Johnny is using steroids? I am very encouraged by the comments that were made here today.” Finally, according to Dick Codey, who is an avid sports fan and has worked with countless high school and college athletes outside of his work in politics and government, “Kids don„t think ten years down the road when that steroid use can lead to a heart attack, liver cancer and diabetes.” Acting Governor Codey is right. But the question now becomes will the sound recommendations generated from this recent steroids conference go anywhere? Will this governor„s task force follow-up and make the necessary recommendations that put pressure on legislators to act and high school programs to respond? It is embarrassing that it has taken so long for anything substantive to take place on the issue of steroid use among high school students. The only thing worse would be for this effort to stop here and the highlight be a much-publicized anti-steroid event with lots of talk and grandstanding with no action to follow.

Time to Act on High School Steroid Abuse