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Don Hooton

Steroid prevalency: Opinions differ

Richard Justice writes about steroids in sports, in particular steroid use among high school students, and quotes a familiar source.

[Don Hooton] cites a Procter & Gamble Co. study in which 2,000 kids were asked if an adult, parent, coach or teacher had talked to them about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs.

Eighty-four percent answered, “No.”

“We think that just because something makes the headlines or is on the 10 o’clock news that it’s getting through to our kids,” Hooton said.

He’ll speak at all 30 major league ballparks this summer. He’ll speak to dozens of high schools and middle schools and to countless medical organizations. He has forged relationships with the NCAA and the Canadian Center for Ethics in sports.

So are fewer kids using steroids?

“We’ve seen no indication at the youth level that steroid use has diminished at all,” he said, “and there’s reason to believe it’s increasing. Steroids are moving out of the locker room and into the hallways.”

How so?

“When you’re competing for the attention of the opposite sex and girls like the beefed-up look, guess what boys are doing.” he said. “We’re seeing steroid use among kids who have never stepped on the field. It’s believed that half of the users of steroids at the youth level aren’t athletes.”

He said a University of Iowa study asked young steroid users why they were doing something that could be so harmful.

“The top two reasons were ‘to look better’ and ‘to feel better about myself,’ ” Hooton said.

“The third reason was to improve in athletics. The horse is out of the barn with steroids, and it’s a social phenomenon. Depending on the study you believe, 4 to 6 percent of high school students are either using steroids or have used them.”

Mr. Hooton has been the leading force behind Texas’ high school steroid testing program. Our experience differs greatly from what he cites, however. From a Dallas Morning News story in January, which I blogged about at the time:

[T]he random steroid testing program for University Interscholastic League athletes in Texas is shrinking. The Legislature initially funded the effort in 2007 with an annual budget of $3 million, but the allotment for the current school year is $750,000 – after a cut to $1 million a year earlier. A total of 4,560 athletes are scheduled to be tested in 2010-11, compared with 35,077 in 2008-09.

While the economic downturn played a role in the reductions, Hooton said he believes state politicians don’t fear steroid use as much as they did when the bill was enacted. That, he said, is because the 51,635 tests done over the last 2 ½ years have resulted in 21 positive tests, two unresolved and 139 not passing for procedure violations, such as unexcused absences. Last spring, all 3,308 tests were clean. Two years ago, Gov. Rick Perry said the results to date indicated the funding might have been excessive.

Hooton said the results of the testing, done for the UIL by Drug Free Sport of Kansas City, Mo., don’t accurately measure steroid use among the state’s high school athletes.

“Those people who read the results as proof we never had a steroid problem in the first place, we just gave them all the ammunition in the world,” said Hooton, who runs the foundation out of his McKinney home. “We’re going to budget this down to defeating the purpose of the program.”

That’s a 0.04% positive rate for tests in Texas, which means 1) the overall problem is vastly overstated; 2) steroid use in Texas is far less prevalent than elsewhere; or 3) the testing we did sucked. Regardless, this vast discrepancy, which Justice does not mention, leaves me highly skeptical of the problem and of the need to “solve” it by spending our limited revenues on a bunch of expensive tests, which if you follow Mr. Hooton’s logic ought to be done on all high schoolers, not just athletes. As a father, I have a great deal of empathy for Mr. Hooton. As a taxpayer, I’m not buying what he’s selling. As a news consumer, I’d like to see all the facts brought to bear in these discussions. We now have several years’ experience and over 50,000 test results in Texas. You want to make the case we need to be doing more, you need to explain why we need to keep looking for something we have so far largely been unable to find.