When high schools conduct drug testing of their athletes, most look for recreational drugs only. But Polk County (Fla.) high schools began bucking that trend in January, when they became the first in the state to test student-athletes for steroids, too.
Testing for steroids costs three to seven times as much as testing for recreational drugs, but Polk had some money left over from a grant and felt it was worth the cost. They randomly select eight percent of athletes to test, versus the 10 percent they test for recreational drugs, to limit the additional expenses. Athletes at a given school are subject to testing about seven times in an academic year.
"It's been 100 percent well-received by all of our people," says Don Bridges, District Director of Athletics, adding that no parents have refused to grant permission, and most coaches welcome steroid testing as a proactive step.
"With so much steroid use in pro sports, I feel like we have to worry about it with our younger kids," says Patrick Smith, Head Football Coach at Polk County's George Jenkins High School in Lakeland. "It may not be as big a problem as we think, or it may be bigger than we realize. I think testing is a good tool to find out where we're at."
Whether testing high school athletes for steroids will become more prevalent is still a question mark. In California, a state legislator has introduced a bill that would require high school coaches to be educated about steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, and would allow schools to test for them.
In Texas, a five-part series published in February in the Dallas Morning News reported that nine student-athletes at a suburban high school admitted using steroids for performance enhancement. In response, the University Interscholastic League, which oversees most high school sports in Texas, said the organization may consider a steroid testing program.