Steroid Testing Hits High Schools

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.4, April 2005,

Over the past 12 months, it's been hard to pick up a sports page without seeing a headline that refers to drug testing. From a new agreement for testing Major League Baseball players to numerous sanctions and appeals among Olympians, the hunt for athletes using performance-enhancing substances sometimes seems like a sport in itself.

Like many other aspects of sports, this search is now reaching the high school level. The executive director of the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for most high school athletics in Texas, said in February that it may consider some form of steroid testing in the wake of a Dallas Morning News series reporting on the admission of steroid use by at least nine athletes at a Dallas-area high school. And in January, the Polk County (Fla.) public school system added steroids to the list of substances it looks for in random testing of athletes. Polk County is the first district in Florida to test for steroids, and among a handful across the country.

Polk County didn't suspect a particular problem, says Don Bridges, Director of Athletics for the 14-high school district. Instead, the district had money left over after the first year of a three-year, $63,000 federal grant to pay for random testing for recreational drugs, and steroid testing was the best suggested expansion of the program.

Administrators and coaches believe testing may keep athletes from considering steroid use-because that seems to have been the effect on recreational drug use. "We're hearing from the student-athletes that testing is cutting it back, because they don't know when the drug people are coming," Bridges says.

If it does nothing else, testing helps highlight the dangers of steroids and gives adults a new way to find out what's going on in young people's lives, says Patrick Smith, Head Football Coach at Polk County's George Jenkins High School in Lakeland. "With so much steroid use going on in pro sports, I feel like we have to worry about it with our younger kids," Smith says. "It may not be as big a problem as we think, or it may be bigger. Either way, I think it's a good tool to find out where we are."

Based on a 2003 survey, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says 3.5 percent of 12th-graders have used anabolic steroids at least once. The survey didn't distinguish between athletes and other students.

The high price of steroid testing is often cited as a reason steroids are not included in most scholastic random drug tests. But when Polk County decided to add steroids to its list of banned substances, it scaled back the rate of testing from 10 percent of athletes to eight percent to help offset the additional cost.

"The steroid test costs us $105 a person. The drug test costs us $15 a person," says Bridges. "We can't go around testing a whole bunch of people for steroids. We'd run out of money."

Frank Uryasz, President of the National Center for Drug-free Sport, says the costs of steroid testing may be exaggerated because quoted rates often reflect a sophisticated protocol needed only among professional and Olympic athletes looking to beat the test. His organization works with a Los Angeles lab charging $50 per sample, he says.

"In the high school population, you could screen for maybe half a dozen steroids and pick up maybe 99 percent of the steroid use," Uryasz says. "If you were to do that in a savvy group of Olympic or professional athletes, you'd probably have less luck. A steroid test looking for fewer drugs can still be a very effective high school testing program.

"We'd certainly like to see more schools that test for drugs include a test for anabolic steroids," Uryasz continues. "One of my concerns is that the courts have told us that it's permissible to test high school athletes, and we single out that population for drug testing, yet we fail to test for the drugs that they're most inclined to use, which are the performance-enhancing drugs."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse maintains a Web site with comprehensive information on steroid abuse at:

An NIDA fact sheet, including health effects and survey results on the extent of steroid use, is at: