Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Steroid testing program for high school athletes shrinks as state cuts funds
Don Hooton's anti-steroid message aimed at young athletes has never been more in demand.
The foundation he started six years ago in the wake of his teenage son's suicide, attributed to steroid use, has grown to a full-time staff of five. They speak at high schools and colleges across the U.S. and Canada. Annual donations from Major League Baseball and the National Football League to the Taylor Hooton Foundation are scheduled into the middle of the decade.
At the same time, the 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 2½ 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."
And Hooton now has help from a heavy hitter in the American drug-testing community, Dr. Don Catlin of the Olympic Analytical Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles. Hooton plans to meet this month with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the driving force behind the original bill, and hopes Catlin can join him in suggesting changes to the program.
Catlin is considered one of the country's foremost testing experts, with 25 years in the business. He headed the group that cracked the BALCO scandal involving professional and Olympic athletes such as Barry Bonds and Marion Jones. Methods questioned
After examining the cumulative UIL test results and details of the program provided on the organization's website, Catlin concluded: "The numbers are nowhere near what they should be for a bona fide program."
He noted that the effort tests for 10 steroids instead of at least 40, said the 10 drugs being tested for aren't the most pervasive among high school users, and questioned giving athletes privacy during testing because it could lead to cheating.
"A poorly operated program leads people who are tested to get the impression the program doesn't work," Catlin said, "and they're right."
Dr. Mark Cousins, the UIL executive who oversees the testing as director of policy, said that responding to Catlin's critique in a public forum would be inappropriate.
"We ultimately take what the Legislature gives us in direction, what money is available, work with the contractor to put together the program," Cousins said. "The decision of what to test for, we leave up to the company. They know what substances are out there. We feel comfortable they're testing for the steroids that have been found in the population that we're trying to be involved with."
Drug Free Sport administers different programs for different clients, which include the NCAA, the NFL and MLB. Spokesman Daniel Regan said the company can't discuss the Texas program under its arrangement with the UIL.
Dewhurst said he understands that the testing isn't perfect and welcomes improvements. As has been the case since testing in Texas began, he said he believes the program's presence as a deterrent is as important as catching users, if not more so.
"Do I believe it's helped deter use? Yes," he said. As for the athletes who haven't passed the test, Dewhurst said, "160 is a lot." 'Balancing act'
Cousins said testing for 10 drugs fits into the formula for the amount of money allocated and for testing a certain number of athletes at a certain number of schools, as mandated by the bill.
"I think we tried to do a balancing act," he said.
Travis Tygert, chief operating officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in Colorado Springs, Colo., also preferred testing for more than 10 drugs.
"I understand there are budget considerations," said Tygert, a former Dallas resident and a graduate of Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law. "You need to be broader."
The Dallas Morning News and Hooton obtained the list of the 10 drugs tested for through separate requests made through the state's Open Records Act.
Catlin reviewed the list and said, "They're looking for the common garden variants. The smart kids are far away from that."
As for the lack of direct observation of urine samples, none of the four states that have tested high school athletes for steroids - Florida, Illinois and New Jersey are the others - have used direct observation. Drug Free Sport's Regan said that procedure is used in its NCAA program.
Cousins said the UIL made that decision based on legal advice, considering that testing would involve a large percentage of minors.
Catlin said he can appreciate that. "But I would argue, then, that if you're not going to do it right, don't bother," he said. "The holes will just get bigger and bigger."
He said in every program he has studied, some test subjects learned the testing schedule in advance. Even high school athletes, he said, can locate means on the Internet to beat unannounced testing.
"Your readers will doubt what you write," Catlin said. "That is part of the problem."
Added the USADA's Tygert: "Trust me: These high school kids know as much, if not more, than some elite levels [of athletes] how to be the best they can be and win to get financial aid to go to college. They're hungry. They're desperate. And it's not too hard to find the information" for beating the test. Concern about cheating
Delaware is one of a handful of states that considered starting steroid testing but declined. Kevin Charles, executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the state passed in part because of concern about cheating.
"The cost didn't seem to make the bang worth the buck because testing was so easily beaten," Charles said. "We had a real good presentation by a medical intern on how easily one can beat drug testing."
And, Hooton said, his contacts in the federal Drug Enforcement Administration say new steroids coming from China can't yet be detected by the U.S. testing.
According to the UIL's most recent survey of state superintendents, 89 high schools conduct their own steroid testing in addition to the state program. That includes the high schools in Frisco ISD, which has tested for steroids for four years.
District athletic director David Kuykendall said he's pleased with the program, which hasn't produced a positive test.
"I do feel like what we're doing here since Day One has been a deterrent," Kuykendall said. "How strong it is? I couldn't tell you."
The testing program could face another challenge soon. The budget shortfall for the 2011 legislative year has been estimated in some quarters at $25 billion.
"If the program is cut back again," Hooton said, "I implore our elected officials to beef up our weak education programs to make certain that our kids clearly understand the dangers of playing with these drugs." Steroid testing in other states
Since spring 2008, steroid testing of Texas high school athletes each semesterhas resulted in 162 tests not passing out of 51,635, a percentage of .003. In the other three states that do or have done testing, a total of 4,111 tests have resulted in four positives, a percentage of .00097:
When: postseasons starting in the 2005-06 school year
Total tests: approximately 2,500
Total positives: three
When: 2008-09 school year
Total tests: approximately 600
Total positives: one
When: postseasons of 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years
Total tests: 1,011
Total positives: 12 (all cleared after providing explanations to state's medical review officer)