Impact of Drug Testing in High School Sports
With the sport supplement industry last year alone topping out at over $6.1bn, up 7.5 percent from 2006, it is hard to imagine what percentage of this total amount was purchased by athletes 18 years of age and younger. A large part of the athletic culture in high school is now consumed by the image of the shredded athlete who will grace the cover of a major publication, or one of the many commercials showing an athlete who is bigger, faster and stronger.
It is not surprising that due to this popular media image of what an athlete should look like, many of today’s youth athletes are turning to illegal drugs at an alarming rate to achieve what they may consider a measure of success. Research by Calfee and Fadale (2005) showed that up to one third of high school students who use anabolic steroids are in the population of non-athletes who use steroids to improve appearance (as cited in Buckley et al., 1988, p. 3441). Current estimates put the number of US athletes taking some form of illegal drug or steroids specifically at 1 to 3 million (Silver, 2001). One can only imagine how this number breaks down to the high school and middle school level.
While the drive to be competitive, to be popular or to just fit in within the scope of today’s society pushes many youth to try illegal drugs; many are also trying to live up to the expectations of parents who require nothing but success. The ultimate rationale for implementing a drug testing protocol, in any environment and within any population, is the reduction and prevention of illicit drug use. This dynamic is set-up for the well being of the students as well as the student-athletes. Opponents of school-based drug testing argue that the privacy intrusion is significant (American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU], 2002). The ACLU, for example, opposes drug testing in schools because, “at a level of both subjective and objectively reasonable feelings, a drug testing regime conducted by a school is intrusive.”
In the landmark case that started the push towards a school’s ability to implement drug testing and drug searches, New Jersey v. T.L.O (1985), the Supreme Court had recognized that a student relinquishes certain rights to privacy when s/he is entrusted to a school for supervision. The relinquishment of these rights, the Court stated, was critical because the state was responsible for “maintaining discipline, health, and safety.” This allowed for the school to have a need of reasonable suspicion, and not probable cause in order to search student’s belongings.
Veronia School District 47j v. Acton (1995) , the Supreme Court upheld a local school board policy in Oregon that validated the constitutionality of a random drug testing regime implemented by the local public schools. Student athletes were required to submit to random drug testing before being allowed to participate in sports. During the season, 10% of all athletes were selected at random for testing. The Supreme Court held that although the tests were searches under the Fourth Amendment, they were reasonable in light of the schools’ interest in preventing teenage drug use (Skidmore, 2004).
Appearing before a Senate Committee on the abuse of anabolic steroids amongst amateur athletes, Don Hooten recalled the short span of time leading up to the death of his son Tyler. Tyler was an aspiring student athlete who was well liked by his peers, adored by adults for his manners and a bit of a ladies man. Not one person in the town of Plano, Texas could have possibly imagined that a coach from the JV baseball team at Tyler’s high school could be the precipitous that would eventually take him down the path of becoming an illegal drug user. Tyler’s coach had told him that his chances for making the Varsity squad the following year were better if he got “bigger.” What young athlete does not want to make the varsity team, or for that matter, what young athlete does not want to heed the advice of their coaches?
Off the advice of his JV coach, Tyler decided that making the team was something that would not slip from his grasp. With the help of anabolic steroids Tyler was able to add 30lbs of muscle to his already athletic frame. The time-frame for this transformation was 4 months! Don Hooten started to notice changes in Tyler’s behavior. The once well-mannered young man now displayed uncontrolled fits of rage, bouts of extreme anger and long periods of depression. Tyler was displaying classic signs of a person who was on anabolic steroids, but because Don and other members of his family did not know of the warning signs for anabolic steroid use, or the sudden mood and behavior changes in their son, they mistook it for possible growing pains.
Unfortunately for the Hooten’s, they were not in time to save their son from the dangers of anabolic steroids, and Tyler hung himself only a few weeks after stopping his final cycle of anabolic steroids. One family was too late to save their son.
Anyone can purchase anabolic steroids online. If you simply Google “Growth Hormone,” you will be able to pull up any number of sites with live help, giving you the ability to have products shipped to your door 24 hours a day. Forums help new users learn how to inject steroids properly and also answer any questions that a “newbie” may have about stacking. This is all within a few keystrokes for anyone looking to gain a competitive advantage, or to help them make the varsity team. One can only imagine that one of these sites may have been one that Tyler researched in his effort to get bigger liked his coach had told him to do.
Many of the opponents to drug testing in schools start by attacking the financial burden that this type of testing may place on already strained budgets. Many argue that the costs for Voluntary or Mandatory Drug Tests, which would average $7500 - $80,000 per school per year, are far too expansive and are not feasible to apply to interscholastic budgets. Most do not have the money to field some teams, let alone set aside thousands of dollars for drug testing in their schools.
Other factors that derail most programs are the questions of “What drugs to test for?” Some of the current drug testing can only analyze to certain degrees specific drugs, so any drugs that may not be covered in a selected testing protocol may, and can, go undetected. So, which drugs do you decide to test for amongst the athletic population? What drugs may the portion of the student body not directly involved with athletics should you test for? These are all difficult questions to answer, but one’s that should not be overlooked because children are dying.
One positive note has been the government’s recent involvement in initiatives to start getting this potential epidemic under control. In an online article by Planas (2004), the Bush administration earmarked $35 million in grants to help school departments’ battle this growing problem, but as mentioned previously groups such as the ACLU have stated their negative positions on this matter.
With far too much at stake when it comes to the lives of any student, or student athlete, we must make a commitment to the health and well being of each child, and help to educate them not only to the long-term dangers of illegal drug use, but the short term dangers as well. Not many teenagers are concerned about their health as a 35 year old adult male or female, but may be more concerned about the likelihood of a major medical issue or death due to the use of these dangerous substances. It is in the best interest of the schools, athletic departments, coaches, teammates and parents of these individuals who may be tempted by illegal drug use to make them fully aware of the inherent risk of use. The problem needs to be combated and not just brushed aside because some feel it is too expensive a battle to fight.
Calfee, R. MD, Fadale, P. MD (2006). Popular Ergogenic Drugs and Supplements in Young Athletes. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, vol. 117(3), 577-589.
Planas, A. (2007, April 25). High school drug testing promoted. Las Vegas Review Journal. Retrived. http://www.lvrj.com/news/7183316.html
Hooten, D. (2004). Proceedings from CINC: The Abuse of Anabolic Steroids and Their Precursors by Adolescent & Amateur Athletes. Washington, DC.
Skidmore, G. (2004, April 14). Random Drug Testing for High School Athletes. Message posted to http://sports-law.blogspot.com/2004/04/random-drug-testing-for-high-school.html
American Civil Liberties Union. (June 27, 2002). Ignoring Expert Advice, Supreme Court Expands Drug Testing of Students. Washington, DC: American Civil Liberties Union.