Texas to Reconsider $6M Steriod Testing in Schools

By: AP
By: AP

AUSTIN, Texas – By the tens of thousands, Texas student-athletes have been pulled out of class to urinate in a cup for the nation's largest high school steroids testing program.

Boys and girls in all sports, from football to tennis to cross country, have been randomly selected.

The results so far have found little to confirm fears that steroid use is a rampant problem. When the first 10,000 tests found only four positive results, critics declared the two-year program a waste of time and money.

Now state lawmakers must decide whether to keep the $6 million program chugging along, scale it down or eliminate it. The 2009 legislative session starts Tuesday.

The Texas legislator who sponsored the testing bill in 2007 calls it an "incredible success."

The point of testing was to act as a deterrent against steroid use, not catch teens using drugs, said Rep. Dan Flynn, a Republican.

"We don't have a bunch of pelts hanging on the wall," Flynn said. "The success is that we haven't had a lot of positive tests."

Momentum for tests started building in 2005. Headlines of steroid use by professional athletes fueled concerns it had trickled down to high schools. Two years later, Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst made a testing program one of his top priorities.

By the end of the current school year in June, officials expect between 40,000-50,000 public school students from all sports to be tested.

Critics rolled their eyes when the first results were released.

According to a University Interscholastic League report released Dec. 1, the first 10,117 tests produced only the four confirmed cases of steroid use. Two of the drugs identified were the anabolic steroid boldenone and a steroid called methylandrostandiol.

Another 22 cases were deemed "positive" results because students broke testing rules. They either refused to provide a urine sample, had unexcused absences the day they were selected, or left the testing area without approval. A positive test brought a 30-day suspension from play for the first offense.

The National Center for Drug Free Sport tested athletes at 195 schools between February and June 2008, covering 12 sports. Football (3,380) and girls' volleyball (835) were the sports most often tested. The UIL will update test results next month.

Republican state Sen. Dan Patrick has been a vocal critic of the tests, calling them a "colossal waste of taxpayer money" that could be better spent battling recreational drug and alcohol use among teens.

With less than a full year of testing completed, Dewhurst said it's too early to determine if major changes should be made.

Testing is "deterring our young people from putting their lives at risk or wrecking their bodies through the use of illegal steroids," Dewhurst said.

The program's cost compared to its findings could decide its future.

No other state screens student-athletes for steroids as comprehensively as Texas, but more limited testing elsewhere also hasn't found widespread steroid use in high schools.

In Florida, a one-year, $100,000 pilot program that tested 600 student-athletes was discontinued last year after only one student tested positive.

New Jersey began random steroid tests of student-athletes who qualify for team or individual state championships in 2006, but only one of 500 athletes screened in the program's first year tested positive.

The only other state that screens high school athletes for steroids, Illinois, began this school year with tests of competitors at regionals, sectionals and state championships. Results have not yet been announced.

Some individual high schools, school districts and football programs have also instituted steroid testing.

Flynn wants to the Texas program going, but is willing to consider scaling it down providing it remains an effective deterrent. The law requires only that a "statistically significant" number of athletes be tested.

High schools worry the state will push the cost to them. Keeping the current $6 million program would cost each school an extra $4,709 every two years.

Even if Texas continues testing, Rutledge said the early results and the small number of athletes caught cheating showed steroid use is not widespread.

"If one kid is taking steroids, it's a problem," Rutledge said. "It's not the epidemic that people feared it was."


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