TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As professional athletes like Jason Giambi and Jose Canseco admit using steroids, state lawmakers around the country are looking for ways to dissuade high school students from following the examples of their bulging heroes.
“You begin to worry about how widespread the problem is at the professional level,” said John Stewart, commissioner of the Florida High School Athletic Association. “You know that there has to be a trickle-down effect when it comes to that and that would be to the colleges and high schools.”
Steroid use more than doubled among high school students from 1991 to 2003, with more than 6 percent of 15,000 students questioned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2003 acknowledging they tried steroid pills or shots at least once.
Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that could create the nation’s first statewide steroid testing program for high school athletes. Minnesota, Michigan and Texas are among the states where lawmakers also are considering new laws and policies.
“Young people do not comprehend the consequences of steroid use on their health,” said the Florida House sponsor, state Rep. Marcelo Llorente, a former high school and college baseball player. Steroid use has been linked to severe acne, stunted growth, withered testicles, stroke and cancer.
Llorente’s bill and a similar Senate measure would create a pilot program to test students in a sport to be selected in the 2006-07 school year by the state’s governing body for prep sports. The bill would also require high schools to adopt anti-steroid policies.
Less than 4 percent of the nation’s high schools test students for steroids, according to a 2003 survey of athletic directors by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Texas lawmakers are calling for random steroid tests for public high school athletes during playoffs.
“The objective is to make sure every kid playing sports knows there is a high probability they’ll be tested and if tested (positive) they will not play,” said the sponsor, state Rep. Phil King.
Time for tough new laws
Texas law prohibits the use of anabolic steroids without supervision by a doctor. The high school governing body in Texas does not ban steroids or dole out punishment, leaving that to the individual school districts.
Nine students at a high school in suburban Fort Worth, Texas, admitted using muscle building drugs in spring 2004, making it one of the largest cases of confirmed steroid use at a U.S. high school. They weren’t disciplined because none of the violations occurred on school property.
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In Michigan, House Republicans want schools to have a policy on steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs in their athletic eligibility requirements.
“Is it a problem right now?” asked state Rep. Daniel Acciavatti, a former high school athlete shepherding the proposal through the Michigan legislature. “I think we’re naive to think that it’s not with the competitive nature of sports, especially among the kids who want to go on to the next level.”
In Minnesota, anyone selling steroids to minors could face prison sentences of up to 20 years and fines up to $250,000 under legislation being considered.
“I think it’s time for a tough new set of laws to knock steroids out of the park,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Atkins.
California lawmakers passed a measure last year that would have required students to pledge not to use performance-enhancing substances, but it was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former “Mr. Universe.” He said parts of the bill mistakenly focused on dietary supplements and not the more dangerous steroids.
Coach David Wilson, architect of one of the nation’s premier high school football programs at Tallahassee Lincoln High School, said he expected new rules to address the problem, but worried about the reaction from some players. “They’re teenage boys and the more you try to pound something into their head, the more they turn you off.”
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