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strong man posingRecently the Texas Legislature approved a bill for mandatory random testing, which could affect as many as 25,000 high school athletes in the coming school year. If Gov. Rick Perry approves, it would be the largest high school steroid testing plan in the country. We went to some of the Industry’s greatest minds for their thoughts on this new initiative, its impact on bodybuilders, Texans and Americans alike.

Bill Llewellyn starts by saying:

I think I carry conflicting opinions when it comes to the subject of drug testing athletes. On the one hand, I have always been a firm believer that any athletic organization has a right to drug test its athletes as it sees fit. They certainly have every right to ban substances, and on the same note attempt to determine if these banned substances are being used against organization rules. While I may disagree with the overall effectiveness of present day steroid testing, I would not try and suggest that sports organizations stop the practice. I think if you compete in a sport, you should be prepared to adhere to its testing policies – even something as invasive as urinating in a cup in front of someone. The alternative is “open drug” sports, and I don’t think society is prepared to handle that – even if it is far closer to reality than organizers would have you believe.

Testing in high school is slightly different in my view, as we are no longer talking about a private sports organization but those funded and controlled through the public school system with public funds. Were the suggestion mandatory drug testing of all students, I would emphatically oppose the measure. After all, I believe we all have a right to privacy, and that should include all of us, high school students not excluded. But we are talking about the testing of all athletes, testing that would mimic the type many collegiate, amateur, and professional athletes are forced to undergo on a regular basis. In this one regard I find it acceptable. But that is about it.

In a more general sense, I find the practice of government sponsored testing Orwellian. I think it brings us one step closer to a state where the government has much more control over our daily lives than we’d like. I also believe the testing of students to be a big waste of taxpayers’ money. No testing should come from taxes in my opinion. It should come solely from the private funds of a private organization. Let them generate revenue and use that money as they’d like. If they want to potentially waste 3 million dollars per year that is fine. It’s their money, not mine. So I guess, in summary, I can say that while I find the testing of athletes (in general) acceptable, I think that bringing it down to the level of high school a bit unnecessary, a bit invasive, highly wasteful, and overreaching on the part of the school system/government. Still, I suspect this isn’t the last that we’ve heard of it.

Marc McDougal goes on to say:

A few years back I became involved in an interesting discussion with a college town police officer (I may or may not have been in the back of the squad car at the time, the details escape me). I asked him what the biggest problem was these days. Surprisingly, he told me about the steadily growing trend of steroids infiltrating high schools, and even the junior high schools. This was disturbing for many reasons, aside from the dismal realization that taking lunch money from kids would soon be a much more difficult task. What was even more interesting was the source of these steroids…or rather the intermediary. Apparently the fathers of these boys were the ones encouraging (read, injecting) the performance enhancing drugs. Scholarships, potential fame, bagging the cheerleaders…all prove to be motivators for the fathers, as much or more so than the athletes themselves.

As far as steroid testing goes, I have no problem with it in concept. The problem I have is the loudmouth wild-eyed self proclaimed protagonists barking about using the testing to “save lives”. If this testing is going to be done, let’s make sure it’s for the right, realistic reasons. Not to satisfy the fantasy land pseudo-idealists who rank Dianabol with heroin, and Anavar with unprotected hooker-sex.

Let’s take a look at a couple of gems from a May 29th CBS news article:

Don Hooton of the “Taylor Hooton Foundation” – established to fight steroid abuse – is among those who testified before Texas state lawmakers in support of the legislation. Hooton’s foundation bears the name of the 17-year-old high school athlete son he lost in 2003 to a suicide believed caused by abuse of anabolic steroids.

Yes, Don, he killed himself because of all that extra muscle he was gaining; it certainly didn’t have anything to do with the fact that you were a shitty father. The deductive correlation here is comical, and embarrassing. Was his son eating pop-tarts before the suicide? Was he watching violent movies? Was he listening to that damn hip-hop? How does one blame steroids when they have never been shown to do anything more than moderately increase aggression in already aggressive people (which is still uncommon)? He even went on to spout out this profound wisdom: “They’re not doing it to get high.”

Well, we can tell he’s done his research.

Obviously surrounded by infinite wisdom, his colleague Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst had this to say:
“I made steroid testing of high school athletes a priority this session because I believe it will deter young people from putting that poison in their bodies and save lives all across Texas,” Dewhurst said.

So, the agenda is saving lives? We’re not talking about leveling out the playing field for the kids, and preventing cheating…that doesn’t have the headline worthy ring of life saving to it, does it? Luckily, the efficacy of this program should be very simple to quantify. Next year, just pull out a comparison chart of steroid related deaths from ’06 to ’07 and we will all see how many lives have been saved. Unfortunately, since there were 0 deaths caused by steroids in ’06, this could be tough to beat…

I think the net effect of this will be a rapid dissemination of misinformation about steroids, to an already trigger happy nation of people looking to shift blame any chance they get. Steroids have gotten so much bad and inaccurate press lately that it can’t be good for anybody.

The bottom line: testing high school athletes is not inherently a bad idea, but the misinformation surrounding it needs to stop. We have fathers pumping the drugs in the kids, and other fathers screaming about steroids being akin to injecting the plague. It’s all a damn mess, and parents need to step up and take a healthy, active role in their kid’s lives. They need to educate themselves so they can pass on correct information to their kids instead of this Reefer Madness-esque scare tactic propaganda.

Will Brink shares his thoughts:

Save the children! Kidding. What can you say to such a thing? With funding for things like books and computers being tight in most school systems these days, is this really an intelligent use of funds? We already know performance enhancing drug use at that level is quite low. However, I suspect it’s much lower than is commonly reported. Why? Most kids don’t know a steroid from a Pez, and when admitting to using steroids or other drugs in some anonymous survey were in fact using nothing of the sort. “Studies” in this area – which are really just surveys – that look at steroid use by high school kids are completely worthless truth be told. The vast majority of adults could not identify AAS, much less a bunch of kids filling out some anonymous surveys.

A worthy study would be to actually test teens to see if they could even identify an AAS from an aspirin. One recent literature review called “Anabolic steroid abuse among teenage girls: An illusory problem?” came to essential the same conclusion I have. (1) According the authors:

“Upon examining the surveys reporting an elevated prevalence, it appeared that most used questions that failed to distinguish between anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, and over-the-counter supplements that respondents might confuse with “steroids.” Other features in the phrasing of certain questions also seemed likely to further bias results in favor of false-positive responses”

They concluded:

“Many anonymous surveys, using imprecise questions, appear to have greatly overestimated the lifetime prevalence of AAS use among teenage girls; the true lifetime prevalence may well be as low as 0.1%. Future studies can test this impression by using a carefully phrased question regarding AAS use.”

This is a nice way of saying the surveys given to teens to find out how many of them are using performance enhancing drugs are not worth the paper they are printed on. Recent media headlines portraying an “alarming increase in anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) use in teens” is complete fabrication. Although more likely to use performance enhancing drugs over their female counterparts, the numbers for boys are going to be equally misleading for the same reasons. Most kids don’t know a steroid from a vitamin, very few will have the money to afford them or access to them, and many things sold as such contain no active ingredients. Growth hormone? Don’t make me laugh; most competitive bodybuilders can barely afford the stuff, much less some teen football player.

Getting back to the issue at hand regarding testing. If they are going to test teens because they care about their health and well-being, why not test them for nicotine? Is it not illegal for kids below a certain age in most states to smoke? Test them for alcohol, or any number of drugs that we know are far more commonly used by teens and far more dangerous than AAS. Test teens for drugs we know they rarely use and we know lead to very few deaths (if any at all) vs. testing them for drugs we know are fairly common with teens that lead to the deaths of millions of people each year? It appears throwing money down the toilet on feel good measures over taking productive measures is alive and well.

Joel Marion goes on to say:

This is coming from the perspective of someone who also teaches at the high school level in New Jersey. The testing in New Jersey doesn’t affect many schools or students; it’s sort of like the Olympics, with the winners being tested. Is it a deterrent? I’m sure that knowing you may be subjected to doping tests after breaking a record or winning a championship does make some kids think twice about using, but really, it’s only a deterrent for individual sports and very high ranked teams with legit chances at winning a state championship. For sports other than track and field, that makes up a very small percentage of high school athletes in this state.

If the goal is to deter students from using, then completely random testing and/or testing across the board would be a better approach, as Texas is proposing. Is it worth the funding? I guess that’s for the Governor to decide. One thing is for sure, this type of planned or random testing does work — they test all students with passive alcohol testers before prom here (everyone knows they’re going to get tested walking through the door) and no one comes to prom drunk. Now, what goes on after prom is another story. That’s the problem with planned testing: it’s good for that specific moment, but there are plenty of ways around it if one knows it’s coming. Random testing may be a better solution, but it possesses its own set of problems. And at the high school level, I’m not sure it’s warranted or worth the trouble (especially given the extremely large number of athletes that compete at that level).

And Caleb Stone concludes:

More “steroids in sports” stuff is always negative for bodybuilders, athletes, and for Americans in general because it’s always packaged in hysteria. If parents don’t want their kids to have to play against the big, fast boys, play junior varsity football or golf. I’ll be curious if Texas produces less D-1 athletes over the coming years. There are normally about 300 per year.

Wishing to add to last week’s discussion on Texas legislators’ move to enforce random steroid testing for high school athletes, Rick Collins, the nation’s foremost legal authority on performance enhancing substances, had this to say:

Last time I looked, Senate Bill 8 was awaiting the signature of Governor Rick Perry, having been steered through the legislative process by the State’s Lieutenant Governor. Once the bill is signed into law, Texas will become the newest state to approve random testing of certain public school students for anabolic steroid use. The bill will take effect in the coming 2007-2008 school year.

The Texas approach is one whopping endeavor. The bill goes far beyond the limited program enacted last year in New Jersey or the one soon launching in Florida. Reports are that up to 22,000 Texas student athletes may be tested, suggesting a potential bureaucratic and logistical nightmare. While funding is in place for the coming school year, who’s going to fund it year after year?

Okay, look, nobody wants kids abusing drugs of any kind. Keeping teens away from steroids is a worthy idea, aside from its too-obvious political value as a “save the children” vote-grabber. And if the main gripes our society has with non-medical steroid use are 1) the physical dangers to kids and 2) the harm to sports fairness, then a control system to deter teen athletes from juicing up makes more sense than a maze of criminal laws mainly enforced against mature adult non-athletes. But there are other illicit drugs besides steroids that physically endanger our kids. While these drugs may not enhance sports performance, they are far more prevalent and they can and do kill. The way I see it, the three million dollar annual price tag for this program would be better spent addressing a broader array of more prevalent drugs of abuse. For further applicable criticism (regarding New Jersey ’s approach), see the News Headline dated 01/08/06 at www.steroidlaw.com.

In conclusion Kelly Baggett offered his feelings on the matter, saying that:

Since I do spend a significant amount of time in Texas I had 2 initial thoughts. The first one was “Oh boy, – now I have to listen to all these teenagers go around talking about how that creatine they’re taking is gonna make them fail their steroid test” The 2nd though I had was “There are probably also gonna be a bunch of punks busted for using legal prohormones and wondering how in the heck they came up positive when that guy from the local health food stored told them,’These ain’t steroids.'”

Overall I think it’s a waste of time and money and will create more problems and confusion than anything else.

References

(1) Kanayama G. et al. Anabolic steroid abuse among teenage girls: An illusory problem? Drug Alcohol Depend. 2006 Nov 28;

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