New Jersey this fall will begin testing some of its high school athletes for steroids, making it the first state to institute such a program for athletes statewide.
Though individual schools around the country have conducted steroid tests on their students, New Jersey’s plan, approved unanimously June 7 by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association, will open up a much larger pool of athletes to random testing. Students must consent to the drug testing to participate in athletics.
Eligible for the testing will be the approximately 10,000 public and private school students who make it to postseason play in New Jersey. Most of the money set aside for testing—60 percent—will be focused on athletes in sports where steroid and performance-enhancing drug abuse is believed to be more common: football, wrestling, track, swimming, baseball, and lacrosse. Forty percent will be spent testing athletes in other sports.
Students who test positive will be stripped of any medals, and will be suspended from participation in school-based sports for one calendar year.
The state legislature and the NJSIAA each contributed $50,000 to the testing program. Approximately 500 athletes will be tested, at a cost of $150 to $200 per test, said Steven J. Timko, the executive director of the NJSIAA.
“A lot of states are watching New Jersey. We’re a pioneer in this process,” Mr. Timko said.
Besides steroids, the testing is intended to detect other drugs believed to enhance sports performance, such as diuretics, stimulants, and human growth hormones.
New Jersey this fall will begin random drug testing of student-athletes who qualify for postseason tournaments. State athletic association officials plan to test for about 100 banned substances in four broad categories:
These drugs are commonly taken to reduce fatigue or enhance alertness.
Steroids are synthetic substances similar to the male sex hormone testosterone. They
|Diuretics||Peptide Hormones |
Diuretics increase urine output. They can be abused by athletes,
These hormones are believed to offer the same muscle-building characteristics of steroids, with fewer side effects.
SOURCES: National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Institute on Drug Abuse, New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association
However, the program will not test for other illegal substances like marijuana or alcohol.
Students will have the opportunity to appeal a positive test, and will not be punished if they’re using drugs under a doctor’s prescription. For example, methylphenidate, known by the brand name Ritalin, is on the banned drug list. But the stimulant is also often used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
‘Our Problem,’ Too
The steroid and performance- enhancing drug testing policy was developed after then-Gov. Richard J. Codey, a Democrat, convened a task force of athletic directors, trainers, coaches, and other school officials to examine the issue. In December, the panel recommended the state begin the testing program, as well as launch an extensive education campaign to warn students of the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.
“We would be blind to think steroid use among teenagers are Texas’s problem and Connecticut’s problem and California’s problem and not ours, because we’ve already seen it,” Peter King, a Sports Illustrated writer and New Jersey resident who was a member of the task force, wrote in the panel’s final report.
The rate of illegal steroid use among students varies, according to different surveys. About 2.6 percent of high school seniors surveyed in 2005 said they had used illegal steroids at least once in their lives, according to the Monitoring the Future survey, a national health survey of students funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the federal National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. The 2005 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, indicated that about 4 percent of high school students have used illegal steroids at least once.
New Jersey has not had a severe steroid abuse problem, said Alan W. Carr, the supervisor of health, physical education, and athletics at the 800-student Haddon Township High School in Haddon Township, N.J. But students “are all looking for an edge,” he said.
Some say that the expense of steroid testing makes such a program impractical for their states.
Emmy Zack, the director of communications for the California Interscholastic Federation, said her state has just under 700,000 athletes. Even limiting the tests to those in postseason play would leave a pool of tens of thousands of students, she said.
“It’s just not financially feasible,” she said. Plus, a smart athlete would know to “cycle off,” or curtail, steroid use as the postseason approached, she said. “You can’t tell people when you’re going to test. It has to be random.”
The centerpiece of California’s steroid-fighting effort is educating the state’s 60,000 high school coaches, she said. By 2008, all of them must complete a training program that includes a strong message against performance-enhancing drugs.
“We feel like they have a lot of influence on these kids,” Ms. Zack said.
A version of this article appeared in the June 21, 2006 edition of Education Week as Student-Athletes in New Jersey to Face Testing for Steroids