Steroid use in schools a big problem in South Africa

Hundreds of schools across South Africa are subjecting pupils to drug and breathalyser tests in a desperate attempt to curb an alarming increase in drug abuse.

And, on the eve of schools’ annual Easter rugby festivals, which kick off this week, the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) has warned it will be testing players for anabolic steroids.

The anti-doping agency, which said doping in schools was now “beyond serious”, will tomorrow announce that two teenagers who took part in Craven Week last year have been banned from competitive sport for two years, starting February, after they tested positive for steroids.

From this month SAIDS will administer at least 1 000 tests for dagga, cocaine and anabolic steroids at 120 schools, at a cost of between R1.3-million and R1.4-million.

Shocking findings of pupils arriving drunk at school, smoking dagga and using illegal steroids have prompted the decision by school principals to conduct tests. One headmaster stated bluntly that if a pupil looked “dopey”, he would be tested immediately – with harsh consequences if the results came back positive.

The Sunday Times has established that 104 of 433 pupils expelled from schools in five provinces for serious misconduct between April 2010 and last month were booted out for dealing or being in possession of drugs.

A staggering 175 pupils at schools on Gauteng’s East Rand tested positive for drugs last month alone, according to the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence’s (SANCA) Eastern Gauteng Alcohol and Drug Centre.

And tests conducted at schools mainly in Gauteng, the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State between January and last month by a Johannesburg-based company, Drug Detection International, found that three out of 132 pupils tested positive for anabolic steroids and 21 out of 251 pupils for other drugs.

Parktown Boys’ High School in Johannesburg banned a matric pupil from playing sport last month after he tested positive for an illegal steroid. The boy, who plays rugby for the school’s third team, said he unknowingly took an unregulated supplement during training sessions.

A snap survey by the Sunday Times this week indicated that pupils’ drug of choice was dagga.

This is borne out by studies conducted by the SA Medical Research Council’s alcohol and drug abuse research unit, which found that dagga was the most common primary substance of abuse for patients younger than 20 years.

According to Benoni High School headmaster Jake Ceronio, “one or two pupils” tested positive for alcohol about a month ago but they had drunk it outside of school premises.

Ceronio said tests for drugs and alcohol were administered “if a pupil looked dopey”.

“If a child tests positive, we send him or her for a blood test as well,” he said. “Because we test regularly, there is a fear factor,” he said.

Pupils who test positive for drugs at his school, Ceronio said, were referred to the school’s chaplain for counselling and had to undergo a rehab programme through SANCA.

Some pupils from Allen Glen High School in Johannesburg also tested positive for alcohol.

Cindy Paige, the chairwoman of the school’s governing body, said the school had bought a breathalyser test kit after pupils who came to school drunk became aggressive towards teachers.

“Most of them that we breathalyse turn out to be positive,” she said.

She said parents gave permission to the school to test their children for drugs when they enrolled them.

Calla Niemand, principal of Parktown Boys’, said the school tested a pupil if there was “a reasonable suspicion” that he was taking drugs.

Referring to the pupil who tested positive for steroids, Niemand said: “He wasn’t aware of the fact that it [the supplement] contained some form of steroid. He’s just got to take his punishment and learn from that.”

The chief executive of SAIDS, Khalid Galant, said doping was not confined to rugby and athletics.

“A large number are participating in doping activities for the aesthetic appeal of a bigger and more muscular body,” he said.

He said SAIDS was communicating with the World Anti-Doping Agency to seek clarity on the approach to “in-school testing” so that they do not fall foul of international sports regulations.

Galant said: “The first phase of testing will target schools with strong sports traditions, where any teenager can be tested and where they could face a wide range of sanctions.”

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