These numbers are consistent with numbers we’ve seen across the country. Â Somewhere between 4-6% of all high school students admit to KNOWINGLY using anabolic steroids. Â Please note that these numbers do not include the number of students who unknowingly ingest steroids via supplements that they purchase across the counter at the local health food store.
As many as 20% of bodybuilding supplements purchased at health food stores have been found to be spiked with illegal anabolic steroids.
As the image was called up of a female bodybuilder, her body bursting with evidence of steroid use, the student athletes in the audience groaned, grimaced and chuckled.
"You laugh, but to her, that was her goal, to get that large, to be number one," Kathleen Laquale, a former Olympic trainer and health professor at Bridgewater State University told the audience at Quincy High School. "It keeps going in a vicious cycle."
Thursday night's assembly on the dangers of steroid use, mandatory for Quincy High School athletes and part of "Drug Awareness Week" in the schools, held students' attention as Laquale explored an often overlooked drug problem.
While not nearly as widespread as alcohol and other drug use, steroid use does happen in Massachusetts high schools. Between 4 and 5 percent of 3,000 public high school students surveyed in the state have admitted to using steroids in the past four biannual risk assessments conducted by the state education department.
In addition to illegal anabolic steroids, Laquale also discussed how pro athletes beat drug tests and the unpredictable health effects of over-the-counter supplements, many of which are not recommended for use by teenagers.
"They care about making money; they don't care about your health," Laquale said of supplement manufacturers. "You don't know how the product is going to affect you. Use food first. A balanced meal will get you stronger."
Danny Higgins, a Quincy High School hockey player, said the presentation's scope was eye-opening.
"Even if you think it's safe, it can really do damage," he said of supplements.
John Jones, another Quincy High School hockey player, said the assembly left him feeling equipped to deal with any temptation to use steroids in the future.
"It makes you think twice," he said.
Steroids can stunt growth in teenagers, overstress and tear tendons and cause depression and violent mood swings, Laquale said. Anabolic steroids have also been linked to enlarged hearts, high cholesterol and liver cancer, and can be psychologically addictive.
Some parents of high school athletes who died untimely deaths have fingered steroids as the cause in testimony before Congress.
"We've seen so many needless deaths," Laquale said.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association has a policy that calls for players to be suspended for two games the first time they are caught using steroids. High school athletes in the state, however, are not routinely tested. The tests, like the steroids themselves, are expensive.
"Testing everybody, that's not practical," said Paul Wetzel, an MIAA spokesman.
Wetzel said there is more of an emphasis on training coaches to recognize signs of steroid use.
"Even though steroids may not be mentioned when it is suggested to an athlete that his/her success is limited only by a lack of weight and/or strength, without a disclaimer the statement can be a motivation for steroids," reads an MIAA policy document.
"It's something that you do have to watch," said Jim Rendle, Quincy's athletic director. "There's no great fear of steroids (among young people)."
Chris Cassani, a member of Mayor Thomas Koch's drug task force, said little attention has been paid to the potential dangers of supplements.
"You can go and buy stuff (over the counter) that you probably should only be taking under a physician's supervision," Cassani said. "Granted, you're not injecting steroids into your body, but you're still taking stuff that an 18 year old who's still growing probably shouldn't have to take."