Critical Comments on Texas High School Steroid Testing Program

I applaud Laurie Fox of the Dallas Morning News for breaking ranks with the sycophantic cheerleaders for Texas’ UIL Anabolic Steroid Testing Program.

The short history of steroid testing in public schools has yielded little, if anything. In the handful of local school districts that already test for steroids, no positive test has been reported. The same is true for limited state programs in Florida and New Jersey.

“It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Lloyd Johnston, a noted researcher at the University of Michigan. “My guess is that the payoff relative to the cost won’t be high.”

Some critics also question the state’s policy decision to go after steroids when the use of other illegal drugs, including marijuana, heroin and prescription drugs, is far more common among teenagers. The state’s steroid tests will cost up to $140 each, compared with $15 for most other drug tests.

Ms. Fox asked Texas State legislators about the statistically low probability (Lloyd Johnston’s “needle in a haystack” analogy) of catching steroid users. Legislators say catching steroid users wasn’t the primary objective anyway. The real goal of the steroid testing program is to serve as a deterrent for high school athletes considering the use of anabolic steroids.

Ms. Fox asks steroid prevention researcher, Linn Goldberg, M.D., about the deterrent effect of steroid testing in high schools:

Linn Goldberg, a national drug-testing expert and the head of the division of health promotion and sports medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, said “drug testing, as yet, is not a deterrent to use. There’s no evidence that it is.”

He called the Texas steroids program “a knee-jerk reflex so they can say they’re doing something.”

Dr. Goldberg’s study and another done in 2003 at the University of Michigan showed that drug testing did not have a significant effect on whether students continued to use drugs.

Although I don’t think Linn Goldberg is an uninterested, neutral observer in this debate, I do agree with his assessment of Texas’ steroid testing program.

Texas and high school steroid testing
Texas and high school steroid testing

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