School steroid scourge – 2/3 taking steroids to look better (not athletics)

Durban – The stories from Dr Kevin McEwen and Sharon (not her real name) provide a poignant and frightening exclamation mark to this week’s SA Institute for Drug Free Sport presentation and two SharkSmart surveys which highlight the prevalence of steroid use in schools.

Although the presentation by Amanda Claassen-Smithers, an education manager at the institute, focussed on the school sports environment, the statistics she shared back up local SharkSmart studies conducted in 2011 and 2013 and prove the steroid culture in schools is in no way limited to sportsmen.

The SharkSmart studies showed that nearly two thirds of male steroid users wanted “to look good” while just less than a third were taking steroids to improve sports performances. In the sporting context pressure from coaches, peers and parents can be significant reasons for steroid use.

After gaining certain dispensations from the World Anti-Doping Agency to comply with the South African Schools Act, the institute is now able to conduct drug testing in schools, but there are limitations to the current system which experts believe is hampering their fight against the scourge of steroid use.

One of the flaws is that random testing, generally considered to be one of the more effective ways of slowing the spread of steroid use, is still not allowed. Furthermore, the institute cannot test at a school without a formal request from the school principal, and the school has to decide which pupils are to be tested.

In 2015 just 12 schools signed up for the programme (eight in KZN, two in Gauteng and just one each in the Eastern and Western Cape).

That is down from 15 in the 2014/15 year, but the institute is working on the introduction of a national strategy so it would become compulsory in all schools. This will, however, require a change to current legislation, which is in the pipeline.

The 2011 and 2013 SharkSmart surveys, which interviewed 12 000 and 10 000 pupils at 20 and 23 local high schools respectively, highlighted some serious issues with regard to steroid use in schoolchildren.

The findings included high usage (almost one in 10 of all 18-year-old males anonymously reported having tried steroids some time in their lives); usage that increases with age; a prevalence of usage for improving body image as well as sport; unregulated steroid distribution from gyms and personal trainers; and a “statistically significant relationship between steroid use and pressure to perform; physical violence; suicide ideation; and recreational drug use”.

The surveys also showed that less than 50% of the schoolchildren surveyed consider steroid use to be “cheating”.

On Wednesday Claassen-Smithers revealed that youth rugby (U19 and Craven Week) made up a staggering 42% of all the doping offences in SA Rugby from 1998 to 2014. If U21 rugby is added to that, the percentage increases to 60%.

In the institute’s 2015 annual report it is stated that 173 urine tests were conducted in schools last year and 12 returned positives. In school pupils, the institute only tests for anabolic steroids, peptide hormones, diuretics and cannabis and not all the positives were for steroids, although they are significantly more prevalent.

In 2013/14 one pupil tested positive for eight anabolic steroids.

Dr Glen Hagemann, a sports doctor at the Sharks Medical Centre and past president of the South African Sports Medicine Association, believes that number would be significantly higher if all high schools displayed a genuine intent to actively participate in the institute’s free steroid testing programme and to effectively target steroid abusers in their schools.

http://mini.iol.co.za/news/south-africa/kwazulu-natal/school-steroid-scourge-1987542

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