Prestigious high schools warn students about steroid use
Several prestigious high schools are taking action against performance-enhancing drugs by running education programs for students and parents.
It comes against a backdrop of drug scandals and inquiries in professional sporting codes, the expulsion of students over steroids, and the sponsorship of school-age competitions by supplement manufacturers.
The Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) is currently investigating doping allegations in the NRL and AFL on a scale which it describes as “unprecedented”.
There are fears younger athletes will use similar substances.
Two students were charged for dealing in steroids at Saint Joseph’s Nudgee College in Brisbane in May this year.
In 2007, ASADA arrived at the Head of the River rowing regatta to conduct tests after it received a “credible tip-off”. Some principals rebuffed the agency at the time, but that attitude has since evolved.
Ross Tarlinton, headmaster of Saint Joseph’s College in Sydney, said schools were now more likely to cooperate with ASADA.
“We would aim to work with ASADA, or any other like agency, in a positive and proactive way,” he said.
“I’d want to know who they were testing, why they were testing, and have a conversation with ASADA about the process,” he said.
Mr Tarlinton said ASADA provides useful tools to teach students.
“I’m a fan of much of the work ASADA does, particularly their education program, the materials they provide for teachers for use in the curriculum, the material they provide online for young people,” he said.
The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) promotes education as the key to preventing drug use.
“In Japan, every school has this course, primary and secondary,” said WADA boss John Fahey. “I’d love to see that spread throughout the world.”
Students under pressure to bulk up
New research suggests drug use is widespread in the US, where the lucrative major leagues are outside the WADA system.
A study last year by the University of Minnesota found 5 to 6 per cent of middle school and high school students were using anabolic steroids.
Some school districts have started drug testing to teenaged athletes, but the value of the expensive program has been debated.
Experts suggest drug use is not as widespread in Australia.
Sydney University dietician Dr Jenny O’Dea said 5.6 per cent in year 12 students reported using medication attained through gyms or drug dealers, such as steroids, insulin injections and muscle building pills.
That figure lowered to 1.7 per cent of year 11 students.
Dr O’Dea’s study showed supplements are a bigger issue, with more than a quarter of the senior boys having used sports supplements, vitamins or minerals to gain weight and muscle.
Newington College’s First Eleven Cricket Captain, Sam Smyth, says there is a lot of pressure to bulk up.
“It’s mainly between peers, talking about that and gym programs, what you’re doing, when you’re going, what are you taking, how much do you lift,” he said.
Supplements a risky way for teens to make up ground
Dr David Mulford, headmaster of Newington College, says earlier selection for elite sport is adding to the pressure.
“All sports now have elite sport programs, earlier and earlier to find talent, so there’s pressure to try to take short cuts,” he said.
“The major issue around supplements now is it’s still such an unknown what’s really in them and what’s the long-term effect.
“There are no long-term studies about the effect of these short-term supplement gains.”
ASADA educator Alanna Metlikovec says taking supplements also increases the risk of testing positive for a banned substance.
“On average, 40 per cent of all positive drug tests we collect are resultant from supplement use and people didn’t know there’s a banned substance inside it,” she said.
Ms Metlikovec was part of a sports performance seminar held recently by Newington College, where a number of the boys had already been drug tested.
The students and parents heard from experts in performance, nutrition and drug testing.
The main message was that supplements were a risky way to make up for poor rest, diet and training regimens, in the teen years.
Education departments around Australia endorse drug testing in junior sports at the representative level.
But principal of Box Hill Senior Secondary School Steve Cook said there were privacy and logistical issues when it came to testing school-aged athletes.
“I don’t think we currently have anyone in schools with the expertise who would be able to do it,” he said.
“Students are aware of WADA and ASADA regulations and we’re making sure they’re not doing anything that will put their career at risk.”