Focus on steroids prompts look at high school athletics

As Barry Bonds closes in on the Major League Baseball all-time home-run record, Assemblyman Guy Houston has renewed his interest in bringing back Assembly Bill 1319, which would require random urine tests for anabolic steroids among high school athletes.

This may seem an odd mix: state government and high school athletics. But guarding the public’s health and regulating harmful substances are two of the state’s most fundamental roles. The latest example of this is the state’s role in high-stakes athletics, and this time it started in the Assembly.

Houston’s bill, which was heard in the Assembly Education Committee in April, was initially defeated by a vote of seven “nays” to three “ayes.” Reconsideration, however, was granted, meaning the bill could be brought back for a vote next year.

“Assemblyman Houston would like to bring the bill back up if he can find some way to make a meaningful impact and win the support of the Assembly Education Committee,” Houston spokesman Aaron Bone said.

The news of Assemblyman Houston’s plan to revive the bill comes after Tour De France cyclist Michael Rasmussen was kicked off his Danish cycling team for missing two recent drug tests.

“Recent scandals have underscored that substance abuse continues to be a major problem among professional athletes. We need to combat any perception among our student athletes that it is OK to use these drugs,” Houston said in a press release.

In a study conducted by the Oregon Health and Science University School of Medicine, approximately 5 percent of 7,544 high-school girls polled across the country reported to previous or ongoing steroid use. A 2002 study of high-school seniors estimated that steroid use had risen to 4 percent, up from 2.5 percent in 2000.

“I want to send the message to our students who may be considering using illegal steroids that they will do themselves harm,” Houston stated.
The bill in its current status is facing some serious obstacles. Among the bill’s opponents are the Americans Civil Liberties Union as well as the California Teachers Association.

According to the bill’s analysis, “The CTA believes in a student’s right to due process. This bill would threaten a student’s right to privacy and could open the door for increased drug testing in educational settings.”
The California School Nurses Association, which supports the bill, cites that the use of steroids is growing among student athletes, beginning in middle and high school.

Recent surveys do in fact indicate a concerning trend among steroid use by teenagers. One study indicates that of the one million Americans using steroids, 75 percent are in high school.

Anabolic steroids can have several negative health effects on the body. It can lead to serous cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and liver damage. Steroid abuse can also lead to rage, mania and delusion. In adolescents, anabolic steroids can prematurely halt growth.

In 2004, former Senator Jackie Speier authored Senate Bill 1630, which would have required the Department of Health Services to develop a list of performance-enhancing supplements. Before being amended, the bill also contained language that would have required school districts to randomly test student athletes in specified sports.

Ultimately, the bill was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In an interview with Capitol Weekly, Speier dismissed the bill as impractical and unnecessary.

“There is no question that legally, you can test. It is a choice for the athletes to play high-school sports. The cost to do the kind of testing is just too high financially,” Speier said. “I think it’s a showboat bill. I already passed a bill. The price of the testing is just too expensive.”

California is not the only state that has attempted to test high-school athletes for steroids. On June 7, 2006, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to require steroid testing for high-school athletes.

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