Steroid Abuse in High School Sports

Earlier this summer reports surfaced showing that now-defunct anti-aging clinic Biogenesis supplied performance-enhancing to professional baseball players like Alex Rodriguez. According to the New York Daily News, Porter Fischer, who originally leaked documents about Biogenesis, told ESPN “Outside the Lines” that founder Anthony Bosch supplied human growth hormone and Sermorelin to high school age athletes, some of whom were accompanied by their fathers when they visited the clinic.

In a four-month investigation, the Sun Sentinel found that;

  • Numerous physicians said parents requested prescription-only drugs to make their young athletes bigger and stronger.
  • More than six dozen South Florida high school students/recent graduates said they used hormones or steroids for strength-building, or knew others who had.
  • Three physicians, as well as some of the athletes themselves, said parents knew of their teens’ drug use or supplied the drugs.
  • Several local coaches and trainers said parents told them they were seeking performance-enhancing substances to give their athletes an edge.

According to a national survey conducted by the Hooton Foundation, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society, it is estimated that the average U.S. high school has 25 to 45 students using performance-enhancing drugs. However, while 97% of the respondents believe steroids cause negative health effects less than one in five thinks that steroid abuse is a real threat in grades 9-12. Meanwhile two out of three see it as a problem in professional sports.

While we believe that competition is not inherently a bad thing, winning at costs is definitely a dangerous attitude to be teaching youth athletes because they are not only putting their athletic and professional careers on the line (look at what happened to Lance Armstrong), but they are also risking their long-term health in order to gain an athletic edge. Steroid abuse has been associated with cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes in athletes younger than 30. When an adolescent takes anabolic steroids the artificially high hormone levels can prematurely signal their bones to stop growing. That means that even though a player might be “bulking up;” they are actually stinting their overall growth.

However, telling youth athletes the dangers of steroid abuse is not enough to keep the drugs out of high schools, especially when they see the pros using and profiting from steroids. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Research on steroid educational programs has shown that simply teaching students about steroids’ adverse effects does not convince adolescents that they can be adversely affected.” Former New York Yankees head athletic trainer Gene Monahan said youth athletes are patterning their athletic conditioning after the pros.

“They’re getting all the news about the pro guys and what’s going on and how they got to where they are,” he said. “Who got scholarships and who didn’t get scholarships? Who looks good for the girls in high school? Who’s getting all the dates? The big guys. The muscle boys.”

While 75% of respondents in the survey favored mandatory testing of high-school athletes Major League Baseball says the price of an illegal substance test with their system is $285 per person, something that most high schools could never actually afford. Less than 4% of high schools actually test their athletes for steroids.

We’d love to hear from the experts about steroid abuse in high school sports. Are you a coach, athletic trainer, or parent that has had to deal with steroids? What do you think is the best way to keep steroids out of the high schools?