If you saw the recent stories about the preliminary results of the two-year, $6 million dollar high school steroid testing program in Texas, you might be confused.
On the one hand, the program didn't catch many users: of the 10,117 students tested in 2008 under a state-mandated program in Texas, only four tested positive for steroids (resulting, for the first offense, in a 30-day suspension of the student from playing his or her sport), although another 22 cases were classified as "positive" because students either refused to provide urine samples, were absent from school without excuse on the day they were supposed to be tested, or left the testing area without approval.
On the other hand, proponents of the testing program called it "an incredible success" because the point was to deter drug use, not catch offenders; as Texas Republican state representative, Dan Flynn, who sponsored the testing bill in 2007, told reporters, "We don't have a bunch of pelts hanging on the wall. The success is that we haven't had a lot of positive tests."
Testing programs in a handful of other states have yielded similar results: A one-year, $100,000 program in Florida tested 600 student-athletes in 2007 was discontinued after only one student tested positive for steroids. Random testing in 2006 in New Jersey produced one positive result from 500 athletes screened. Results from Illinois, which is testing athletes at its state championship events, are not yet available.
The testing programs undoubtedly act as a deterrent to some, but few athletes are tested, the tests only detect certain steroids, and the Internet is full of tips on how to avoid detection.
My position, as it is with respect to so many safety issues in youth sports, has always been that education is the key; that the best way to reduce steroid use among teen athletes is through straight, honest talk in a setting that allows for give-and-take with student-athletes.
While I like the award-winning public service campaign called "Don't Be An Asterisk" about the dangers of steroid use, I think the best way is for high schools themselves to do the education. After all, they are in the education business.
Fortunately, high schools don't have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to steroid education: there are already programs on the shelf, including a multimedia educational initiative called "Make the Right Choice" from the National Federation of State Athletic Associations (NFHS) , and, most notably, the award-winning ATLAS (Athletes Training & Learning to Avoid Steroids) and ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise & Nutrition Alternatives) programs from Oregon Health & Science University they can use.
More and more schools seem to agree with me.
At the very least, parents have, in my view, a responsibility to be proactive when it comes to the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
Talk to your kids about the risk of permanent injury and criminal consequences (including up to a year in jail and a minimum $1,000 dollar fine).
Scare them with a horror story or two.
Become educated about the visible signs of steroid use and be on the lookout!
- And, finally, don't ignore the problem. If you suspect your child is using steroids, seek help immediately before it's too late.