Steroid Abuse Moves Into the Scholastic Arena

The use of steroids by athletes at all levels remains in the forefront of the national picture, and that includes secondary schools. The recent admission of steroid use by U.S. Olympic track champion Marion Jones and the continued rumors of steroid use by baseball’s home run champion, Barry Bonds, are only the most-noticed aspects of an ever-frightening story.

As part of a 2002 National Institute of Drug Abuse study, teenagers were asked if they ever tried steroids, even once. Responses showed 2.5 percent of 8th graders, 3.5 percent of 10th graders and 4 percent of 12th graders said they had been involved in steroid use of some kind.

In 2006, New Jersey became the first state to require all student athletes participating in individual or team championship events governed by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association to be randomly tested for anabolic steroids. Florida followed and now mandates that athletes who participate in football, baseball and weightlifting be randomly tested for anabolic steroids. Six million dollars have been earmarked over the next two years by the legislature in Texas, where elected representatives passed a law requiring school districts to implement random steroid testing for athletes in 2007-08.

A perhaps surprising yet growing population at risk for steroid use are adolescent girls who are abusing steroids to maintain a more sculptured physique and maintain their weight. What do anabolic steroids have in common with amphetamines, tobacco, diet pills, laxatives and anorectics? They all are drugs used by adolescent girls seeking to stay thin, says Linn Goldberg, a physician at Oregon Health Sciences University.

The use of these drugs, which often goes hand in hand with eating disorders, is particularly prominent among adolescent girls engaged in athletic activities ranging from track and field, soccer, basketball and volleyball to school dance and drill teams.

Goldberg and his colleague Dr. Dianne Elliot have been conducting preliminary research, funded by NIDA, to identify risk factors that influence adolescent girls’ use of harmful drugs. Among other things, the researchers have found many teenage girls use drugs to maintain their thinness. According to Goldberg, national surveys indicate that girls account for about one-third of the high school students who abuse steroids.

The use of steroid testing in high schools seems sporadic. The high cost of steroid testing is a major obstacle for school districts, even those currently testing students for other illicit drugs. A single steroid test can cost upward of $100. Hunterdon Central does not test students for steroids, but our school’s state championship football team was tested last year by the state athletic association following one of its post-season playoff games.

— Lisa Brady