(AP) Texas high school students yearning for athletic fame or a chiseled physique are easily obtaining and using steroids as many coaches look the other way and parents seem unaware, a Dallas Morning News investigation has found.
The same students popping pills and sticking themselves with needles of muscle-building drugs were also found to be abusing other drugs — such as Viagra, the fertility drug Clomid, and sedatives –to compensate for steroid side effects.
Those side effects include liver damage, tumors, sexual impotency, erratic mood swings, and potentially suicidal depression.
“Steroids have made a massive comeback” in high schools over the past decade, Mike Long, a veteran Texas high school football coach, said in Sunday’s editions of the Morning News. Long abused steroids as a young athlete and now counsels teenagers about their dangers.
Grapevine-Colleyville officials made headlines last week with a rare admission that nine athletes had confessed to using steroids last spring. Despite more than a decade of research on high school steroid use, coaches and school administrators have largely ignored the issue. Most area coaches interviewed by the newspaper said they don’t believe steroid use is a problem.
“I’m telling you, I’ve never seen steroid use and I’ve never suspected it,” said Mike Hughes, head football coach at Plano West Senior High School, where five former students interviewed by the Morning News described widespread use. “I’m more concerned about other things — alcohol, marijuana, and those things.”
Coaches rarely confront players or alert their parents, even when they suspect steroid use. Some cite a lack of screening programs and fear of a lawsuit from angry parents. They also think twice about accusing a key player because of the extraordinary pressure to win.
The Morning News interviewed more than 100 current and former high school students, coaches, and parents in North Texas high schools. More than 25 of them described their personal encounters with illegal steroid use.
Among other findings from the four-month investigation:
? Teens often obtain steroids from dealers who are friends, classmates, and sometimes varsity athletes.
? Federal and local law enforcement agencies devote little time to curbing steroid use because of tight resources and what they deem more urgent priorities, such as illicit drugs and alcohol.
? Teens and adults use the Internet to exchange information about buying and using steroids and tips on managing side effects.
? Many teenage steroid users are non-athletes. So-called “vanity” users take steroids to impress classmates and potential girlfriends.
A Texas A&M University survey on substance abuse two years ago found that nearly 42,000 Texas students in grades seven through 12 — about 2.3 percent — had taken steroids. Researchers say the number is almost certainly too low.
Steroid use, though common, is still shrouded in secrecy. Coaches seldom out students. Few students get caught. And few high schools fund steroid screening, which is expensive at $100-$175 per test.
“In my 58 years, other than pedophilia, I’ve never witnessed a behavior as secretive as this,” said Charles Yesalis of Penn State University, a pioneering researcher and writer on youth steroid use. “People will tell you they smoked pot, they did coke, they did speed, they did crank, they smacked their wife, they smacked their girlfriend long before they tell you they used anabolic steroids. The higher you go up the athletic food chain, the more pronounced this becomes.”
Despite their dangerous health effects, school and law enforcement officials say steroids are a much less serious problem than illicit drugs and alcohol.
“Cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines are what we see a lot of,” said Plano Police Chief Gregory Rushin. “That’s what’s killing our kids. We just don’t see that many steroids cases.”
High school steroid users make similar distinctions. In Colleyville, a high school user told the Morning News that steroids shouldn’t be viewed “as a bad-kid drug.”
“Remember, kids are not breaking into people’s houses to get their steroids,” Yesalis said. “They’re not walking around with dilated pupils looking like a parent’s worst nightmare. A lot of kids doing this are captain of the high school football team.”