By Jim Ferstle
In the Fall of 1988, Ben Johnson had just been busted in Seoul for steroid use. A short time afterward a pediatrician in St. Paul had an appointment with a mother and her young son. The son was a high school wrestler. "I'd like you to prescribe some stanozolol for my son," the mother said to the doctor, who refused the request.
Not long ago, in another doctor's office in Illinois, a young athlete was also visiting his physician. "You need to get bigger," the doctor told the boy and his parents. "I should give your son some Human Growth Hormone."
Yesterday a study in the medical journal Pediatrics concluded that use of steroids, human growth hormone, protein shakes, and other methods advertised as being able to enhance muscularity in individuals were used by more than a third of the middle and high school students who were part of the study done in the Twin Cities. The number of steroid users in the study was higher than previously reported in similar surveys such of the self reported use of steroids by both boys and girls, athletes and non-athletes.
"This study did not ﬁnd signiﬁcant clustering of muscle enhancing behaviors within schools," the atuthors conluded. "Rather than being driven by a particular school sports team coach or other features of a school’s social landscape, this diffusion suggests that muscle enhancing behaviors are widespread and inﬂuenced by factors beyond school, likely encompassing social and cultural variables such as media messages and social norms of behavior."
While the rate of steroid use was higher among athletes, it was not limited to them. These conclusions are not unique, nor startling. They've been reported before in lower numbers, and have the limitation of being from one area of the country and a self reporting survey that relies on the truthfulness and accuracy of the information provided by the subjects, but one would have to have the proverbial "head in the sand" not to understand that athletics and society in general has a drug/"enhancing substances" problem.
The major unanswered question of this latest survey is where are these middle and high school kids getting what are controlled substances, such as steroids, that are illegal to possess or sell without a prescription. The answer may be in the second example cited of the doctor willing to prescribe HGH to a child that has no growth problem other than to "get bigger" to improve his chances in a sport where size matters. The other most common answer is "on the internet."
One level below the illegal activity, however, is the unregulated "supplement" industry where "prohormones," testosterone boosters, or other products that are advertised as "legal steroids" that may contain actual steroids. These supplements are a category of substances that the researchers noted as being frequently used by the school kids in an attempt to enhance their muscularity.
In a space mission, whenever something went wrong the catch phrase: "Houston, we have a problem," became associated with impending disaster or at least imminent danger. Athletics, we have a problem. It's not a new one. As the recent USADA dossier on the systemic doping in cycling illustrated at the highest level of sport an industry has grown up to support doping in sport.
It appears to not yet have filtered down to the middle and high school level, and hopefully never will, but other countries, such as South Africa, have fears about the infiltration of doping into their school sports and are initiating programs to combat it. The alarm bells are ringing, and hopefully it won't take a disaster the size and scope revealed by the USADA case against Lance Armstrong to stimulate a response. Prevention is a more effective deterrent in this sort of situation than attempting to find a "cure" after the "disease" has already infected the "patient."
Pediatrics article is available HERE.