The much needed attention against steroid use
A recent op-edÂ on these pages by filmmaker Richard S. Schiffrin takes the view that Congress and the Administration have expended too much time and resources investigating the use of steroids by Roger Clemens and other professional baseball players. Mr. Schiffrin wildly misses the point.
The real issue isn't the professional athletes, it's all our children who look up to them and emulate their actions.Â From that perspective, the problem isn't that too much has been done, it is that virtually nothing is being done. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 5.1 percent of high school males and 2.7 percent of all high school females now use steroids. The rate of steroid use among twelfth graders is more than double that for heroin and exceeds that for other drugs like PCP. Additionally, these statistics do not take into account the vastly larger numbers of young people who are unknowingly taking steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. Two recent, independent studies have found that 20 to 25 percent of food supplements purchased off the shelf in the United States contained steroids. Steroid-tainted food supplements have become so great a threat that in 2009 the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to consumers that certain over-the-counter supplements are spiked with steroids. The FDA could take this unusual step only because the agency had multiple reports of people suffering serious adverse affects from having taken steroid-spiked dietary supplements. While Mr. Schiffrin implies that these drugs are safe, the fact is that steroids and other such drug use is extremely dangerous. For example, steroid use can cause harmful changes in cholesterol levels, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver damage, sterility, impotence, and stunted growth. Steroids can also cause serious behavioral problems, such as withdrawl driven depression and "roid rage," both of which can be particularly dangerous among adolescents. The Taylor Hooton Foundation is named for a sixteen year-old honor student and promising baseball player who committed suicide as a result of abusing steroids. Mr. Schiffrin and others suggest that the Congress and the Federal government have spent too much time and energy on combating steroid use. The reality is the opposite-they have spent far too little. Five years ago the Congress held a series of hearings to investigate the use of steroids in professional sports. During those hearings, everyone-the Members of Congress, league officials, pro athletes, and the families of those who have seen the damage of steroids first hand-all agreed that the real issue was the use of these drugs by our young people who look up to these stars.
As important as those hearings were in raising awareness of the problem, there has been no follow up in addressing the threat to our kids. Even though the use of steroids by young people exceeds the rate of use for other drugs that receive a lot of attention and resources, the Federal government spends nothing-literally nothing-on youth anti-steroid education. As a result, a recent study found that 85 percent of our young people say they have never had a parent, teacher or coach talk to them about the dangers of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. The only people talking to our kids about steroids and other performance enhancing drugs are the people pushing them to use these drugs or pushing the drugs themselves. At the same time, both the Congress and the Administration have failed to address the widespread, illegal use of steroids in the food supplements-supplements that are readily available to our kids in health food stores, gyms, fitness facilities, and pharmacies across the nation, as well as online. Imagine the outrage that would follow if our kids could simply buy a product containing cocaine or methamphetamines at the local store on online. Yet here, nothing. Despite all the attention paid to our professional athletes, this was never really about the pros. The real issue was then and is now the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs by our kids. And, in that context, it is difficult to see how anyone can say that too much is being done to combat this threat.
Hooton is the founder and president of the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which is dedicated to educating young people about the dangers of appearance and performance enhancing drug use. He formed the Foundation after the death of his son Taylor. He testified at the 2005 Congressional hearings on steroids.
Rob Housman is a member of the board of the Hooton Foundation.Â During the Clinton Administration he served as Assistant Director for Strategic Planning in the White House Drug Czar's Office. During his tenure at the White House, he played a major role in efforts to address the use of drugs in sports. He was the lead US negotiator for the international agreement establishing the World Anti-Doping Agency and served on the international audit team for the Sydney Olympic Games.