steroids in high school sports

by Prez Ro, Matteson, IL

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Parents know that when their kids play high school sports, there is always a meeting at the start of the season where coaches and administrators bring parents together to discuss grade-point averages and eligibility, rules of conduct and unexcused absences.

But now there's a new challenge many athletes find themselves with... the fight against steroids.
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In the State of Illinois, every high school athlete must sign a pledge that he or she will not use anabolic steroids. Every coach and volunteer must complete the American Sport Education Program course on steroids. In addition, parents are required to attend a meeting to discuss the use and abuse of steroids. IHSA DRUG TESTING POLICY.

The story of steroid use in sports began just before the World Weightlifting Championships of 1954. The Soviets had made their Olympic debut in Helsinki in 1952, and made quite an impact, but nothing compared to the show they put on in 1954. That year, the Soviets easily dominated most of the weight classes. As the story goes, John Ziegler (team physician for the United States) questioned the soviet team´s doctor after the medals were given out, and the soviet doctor said that his team had been receiving testosterone injections. That, in all probability, was the first time anyone had ever used anabolic steroids to enhance performance in an athletic event.

According to some unconfirmed sources, testosterone preparations were used by Germany´s Olympic team in 1936 for the Berlin Olympics. At that time, there were rumors that an Olympic medal winner had previously used oral Testosterone preparations, but the benefit to be had from them (due to the technology at the time regarding oral testosterone) would have been minor. In the case of the Soviets, however, rumors of discarded syringes in their dressing rooms made it clear that they were not using oral steroids, they were using something different. And everyone wanted to know what it was.

That wasn´t, however, the first time anabolic performance enhancement had been attempted. As far back as the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece, athletes ingested various herbs and foods with the hopes of improving their performance. The big winner in the 480 B.C. Olympic Games said he ate nothing but meat for 10 months prior to the Games. Now we know that meat is especially high in B vitamins and Creatine, both of which can enhance performance. Early attempts to increase Testosterone were documented as early as 776 BC and again, by Olympic athletes´ ingested sheep´s testicles, which they knew to be a source of Testosterone production (3). Although it might seem extreme to us now, to eat meat for ten straight months (or to ingest sheep testicles), this was a small price to pay for the prize money that was offered back then & up to 1,200 days pay for winning an event was common. There were no participation medals; they did not compete for the love of the game, to give it their best shot, or even for pride. They competed for money and prestige, end of story (1). And that is why they sought out performance enhancers.
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Steroids in high-school have become an increasingly hot topic in both the media as well as at various levels of the government. This particular topic, of course is going to be at the forefront of many high-school athletes as well as their parents, coaches, and teachers. At this juncture, I think it´s important that I be crystal clear about my position on steroid use by high-school students/athletes and minors under the age of 18 in general. I do not endorse nor condone the use of any illegal substance by minors. However, I also feel it to be absurd to carry on allowing the campaign of misinformation on anabolic steroid use to be allowed to continue. I´ve personally been out of high-school for exactly a decade, and before I began writing about performance-enhancement full time, I worked with at-risk youths in a high-school. I believe this gives me a unique perspective to provide information from, as well as a certain degree of sensitivity to the current climate regarding this issue.

The first thing that I´m going to tell you is that "scare tactics" don´t work. Telling a high-school kid that steroids will kill you is silly; especially when he can turn on the television and look at ESPN and see Bill Romanowski setting NFL records, or Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi breaking home-run records. Scare-tactics and misinformation have failed miserably to stem the tide of anabolic steroid use by high-school students. My position therefore is that education and truth are the best ways to deal with the issue of steroids in high school sports.

First, let´s see where misinformation has gotten us, with regards to stopping high school students from taking steroids. Steroid "education" in schools started becoming widespread in the mid 1980. A quick look at the literature from this time shows that the position taken by the educational community was that steroids do not enhance athletic performance, and they carry with them the great probability of permanent health damage. I´m not really sure where to begin my comments on those particular positions, and still keep this article G-rated.

So let´s review the facts.
In 1988, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examined Anabolic Steroid (AS) use patterns among the male adolescents. In this particular study, overall participation rate on a school-wide basis was 68.7% and on an individual basis was approximately half (just over 50%). The participants in this survey were 12th-grade male students in 46 high schools across the nation who completed a questionnaire which asked them several questions concerning their current or previous use of Anabolic Steroids. The results indicated that 6.6% of 12th grade male students use or have used AS and that over two thirds of the users were 16 years of age or younger when they did their first cycle (5).

The results of a 1990 survey of 2113 high school students show that Ninety-four (4.4%) of 2113 students admitted using anabolic steroids. When that is categorized further by gender, we find that 67 (6.5%) of 1028 males and 27 (2.5%) of 1085 females were users of steroids. Predictably, athletes had a statistically significant greater use of steroids (79 [5.5%] of 1436 subjects) than did non-athletes (15 [2.4%] of 636 subjects) (6). Still, the survey shows a total of roughly 4% of the surveyed high school population had used steroids.

Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for 8th-Graders, 10th-Graders, and 12th-Graders

Now, let´s fast forward a couple of years to examine a survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. According to that survey, steroid use among high school students more than doubled between 1991 and 2003. Slightly over 6% of 15,000 students surveyed admitted trying steroid pills or injections. Huh? Wait and in 1988, 6% of the students in the survey had done steroids. Yet, in 2003 the number was still the same, though it had "doubled since 1991" according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. At this time, it should be noted that fewer than 4% of the nation´s high schools were testing for steroids, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations´ survey of athletic directors.

Are you confused yet? It seems that the rates of steroid use is holding relatively steady at between 4 and 6%, yet we´re being told that it´s an epidemic. So what´s the real story about steroids in high school?

In 2005, if we look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, 6.1% of students from grades 9 through 12 had taken anabolic steroids (7). Once again, we´re seeing about 6% or so of high school students are using anabolic steroids. Sorry, but that´s still basically the same rate as the previous two decades. Is this a "mounting problem" as many in the media would have us believe? Hardly. In fact, it´s holding steady.

So where is the media getting their information? Well, probably not from scientific journals or reliable sources for statistics. In fact, anecdotal evidence is frequently used in news reports, and that type of evidence typically greatly over estimates the widespread usage of anabolic steroids among athletes and often claims reach as high as 20-90%. On the other hand, scientific studies show a trend towards indicating that usage is actually rare and generally no higher than 6% (8). And, to look further into the hard scientific research instead of the soft anecdotal evidence, there is strong indications that suggest that anabolic steroid usage actually declines progressively from high school to college and beyond(8).

Should high school students be using anabolic steroids? No, definitely not. Is this the problem the media would have us believe it is? Again: no, definitely not. In fact, some estimates for 2004 even suggest that only 3.4% of 12th graders have used steroids (9). Let´s put that number in perspective, shall we? According to that xsame source, 76.8% of 12th graders have drank alcohol in their, and the rates of use for most other drugs by high school students (Marijuana, Cocaine, Ecstasy, etc...) are significantly higher than they are for steroid use. I don´t know if that eases the minds of most parents, but I think it ought to give some kind of perspective on exactly where the "steroid epidemic" ranks in importance.

Still for most parents, most memorable moment in the Congressional hearings on steroids was the testimony when the committee´s chairman, Rep. Tom Davis (R., Va.)claimed that there were in attendance "the parents of kids who have used steroids and committed suicide." Later, The New York Times published a story on a student who killed himself, Efrain Marrero, whose family said that his stopping anabolic steroid use provides a viable explanation for his suicide. The New York Times calls this "persuasive anecdotal evidence." Dr. Jack Darkes, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology as well as the Director of Interventions, Alcohol and Substance Use Research Institute at the University of South Florida disagrees with the notion that steroids can be blamed for such instances, and instead cautions us to try to ascribe the tragic ending of a young life to just one factor. I would like to echo his sentiments and say that to attempt to overstate the issue of steroids in high school to only one factor, or overstate it´s importance is equally dangerous. Education at the high school level needs to be based in science and reason, and not simply be reactionary and emotional displays set into motion by the current media frenzy of attention to the issue. The first step is to educate the parents, coaches, and teachers with solid medically based and unbiased information, then to present it to adolescents through the high school education system they are enrolled in. Put simply, you wouldn´t let your children learn table manners from television, so why let them learn about steroids and other drugs from there?

Recent research strongly indicates that a prominent media outlet (a major magazine or television show, for example) can build an agenda for the entire media and thereby influence policy changes as far reaching as the national level of government (10). So if the general feeling we get from the media is that steroids are a rising problem and that steroid abuse is becoming more common in high schools yet the hard scientific date suggests otherwise and who are we to trust? I think the answer is clear& personally, I would put my faith in science and scientific studies before the media. Unfortunately, it would appear that the former is not strongly influencing government policy, while the latter is (10). And that all started with steroids in baseball.

So should Illinois Test High School Athletes For Steroids?

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