They were thinking big in New Mexico. Encouraged by the Drug Enforcement Administration, state officials staged a national summit to discuss solutions for the growing problem of steroids in high school sports.
Gov. Bill Richardson pledged $330,000 to start a testing program and created a steroid task force.
A few months later, the task force decided “that implementing a steroid testing program would be costly, would most likely result in legality issues and would have difficulty passing in the state legislature,” said Robert Zayas of the New Mexico Activities Association.
Different versions of that story are being told around the nation. An Associated Press analysis of the 50 states found that Texas, Florida and New Jersey are the only three whose legislatures have mandated some kind of steroid testing for high school athletes.
California and Michigan also have passed steroids-in-schools laws, and a handful of others have statutes on the books that forbid performance-enhancing drugs — though none of those laws has the teeth to mandate testing.
Few other states have found traction for such legislation. Budgetary, logistical and political difficulties have left the burden of starting these programs with state athletic associations and local school districts, and those jurisdictions are dealing with the same problems.
“In some districts it would be very difficult to have a statewide plan or a uniform program for everyone,” said Bob Baldridge of the Tennessee athletic association, responding to an AP questionnaire about testing. “In Tennessee, it would not be impossible to do but, honestly, very difficult. Nashville is closer to Canada [than] Memphis is to Mount City, Tenn.”
Baldridge’s response was common, as were responses from state athletic associations that have looked at comprehensive testing programs and found them too costly. Most steroid tests cost between $100 and $175 to administer, which may not sound like much. But multiply it by 100 or 1,000, and it obviously isn’t an expense most school districts can afford.
“Steroid use is very serious, and we don’t condone it any way, but there’s cost and legal issues,” said Keith Amemiya, executive director of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association “And there are a lot of other drugs we’re concerned about as well.”
Such conclusions are disappointing to Don Hooton, whose 17-year-old son, Taylor, committed suicide in 2003. Doctors believe Taylor became depressed after he stopped using steroids. Since his death, Hooton has been traveling the country trying to goad state legislatures into mandating steroid testing.
In pushing for the Texas bill, he became a believer that the problem must be solved through the lawmaking process.
“What we learned is if we had to rely on individual school districts or the state athletic association to do it, we might have done it, but it would have been a very hard road,” Hooton said.
He said once the Texas legislature came to grips with the money issue, all the other roadblocks dissolved more easily.
The U.S. Olympic Committee, which is increasing its presence in the research and education side of the fight against steroids in sports, also is interested in seeing more done at the high school level.
“The high school athletic associations and the legislatures are absolutely doing the right thing by taking a serious look at this problem,” USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. “The reported rates of steroid use at the high school level are not only alarming, they reveal the extent to which this is becoming a societal problem.”