Money likely will be biggest obstacle

Updated: April 21, 2004, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- A California lawmaker has introduced bills to ban the sale of some performance-enhancing substances to minors and to mandate steroid testing of high school kids by 2006-2007. But finding the money to make testing a reality will be difficult in the cash-strapped state.

State Sen. Jackie Speier said Wednesday that school districts will not be asked to pay for the tests, which can cost up to $125 each. She hopes money can come from the state, federal anti-doping agencies or even private foundations.

"We're going to use whatever creative financing we can or whatever persuasion we can to get testing into the schools," she said. "If you ban and don't test, you don't have any real results. I don't want to do something that is not worth the paper it is written on."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has admitted using steroids during his bodybuilding career. He was a young man at the time, and the drugs were not yet illegal. And while no one in the governor's office would comment yet on the bills, a spokeswoman stressed that Schwarzenegger believes children should not use steroids or other performance-enhancing substances.

"The governor truly believes that it is incumbent on parents, coaches and peers to talk to kids about the best way to become star athletes. He believes the best way is the old-fashioned way through hard work, exercise and a balanced lifestyle,'' spokeswoman Terri Carbaugh said. "The governor has been very clear that, if he knew then what he knows today, he would never have used steroids."

High schools nationwide are struggling with rising steroid use, but almost none can afford the costly tests that detect the illegal bodybuilding drugs. A similar bill in Florida to mandate random steroid testing of high school athletes has stalled in that state's legislature.

Speier's bills also call for educating high school coaches and trainers about steroids and supplements, and prohibiting them from endorsing supplements or supplying them to athletes.

The bills also would ban supplement companies from sponsoring high school sports events.

In addition to lacking specifics on how to pay for the steroid tests, the bills do not detail how the tests would be conducted -- whether all high school athletes would be tested, or whether tests would be done on a random basis or when there is reasonable suspicion of use.

Former NFL quarterback Warren Moon, who joined Speier on a conference call Wednesday, said testing and education are the keys to fighting high school steroid use. Also on the conference call were former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh and sports agent Leigh Steinberg.

Moon said high school athletes often blindly follow coaches' instructions. When a coach says athletes need to get bigger or stronger, some will turn to steroids, he said.

"These young kids are not educated as to what they are doing to their bodies. They don't see the damage being done," Moon said. "Young kids don't care about the side effects, especially if they don't know about them. They just care about the performance.

"In high school, if my coach had told me to run through a brick wall, I would have tried to do it."

Steroids soared in popularity among high school students -- girls as well as boys -- after Mark McGwire hit a record 70 home runs in 1998 while using the supplement androstenedione, a steroid precursor.

In the most recent national survey of steroid use, 3.5 percent of high school seniors responding reported they have used steroids at least once, up from 2.1 percent in 1991.

Those figures do not include users of over-the-counter supplements such as andro or the more popular creatine, which are much cheaper than steroids. Legislation pending in Congress would formally designate andro as a controlled substance.

Steroids' side effects can include heart disease, liver damage and rage. They can also stunt growth, shrink testicles and cause girls to grow facial hair.

Larry Bowers, senior managing director of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said high school testing and education is important to prevent problems now and in the future. The agency has designed anti-doping educational materials for children as young as fifth grade.

"The athletes that end up in our testing pool five years from now are the high school athletes of today," Bowers said on the conference call.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press