Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The case for steroid testing high school athletes if 2 in 10,000 are users

Since I've argued against continued steroid testing of high school athletes, maintaining that steroid abuse by police officers empirically poses a more significant threat, I wanted to point readers to a column by Donald Hooton, father of a steroid using teen who committed suicide for whom Texas' steroid testing law is named. Writes Hooton in the July 14 Dallas News:

Out of the preliminary findings, two positive tests resulted from more than 10,000 tests conducted by the National Center for Drug Free Sports and the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory. But the law's primary purpose is to prevent our children from turning to steroids by providing a deterrent – the risk of getting caught gives our kids a solid reason to say no.

Consider speed traps on highways. Many adults and teens drive the speed limit not because they know that doing such is safer and saves fuel, but because they know someone is watching – the fear of getting caught is greater than the desire to disobey the law. What happens when you take away the speed traps? People start breaking the law.

Whether the program yielded two positives, 400 positives or 1,000 positives, no one should be drawing conclusions about the extent of steroid use based on these preliminary lab results. The program was never designed to measure steroid use among high school athletes.

According to the statistics from the 2007 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, recognized as the premier organization in this field, 3.9 percent of high school students are abusing anabolic steroids nationally. Given that 10,407 students were tested in Texas in the past year, the results should have yielded at least 400 positive tests. Based on the preliminary results that we've read about, what we do know is:

• The random testing preliminary results of Texas students identified that 99.98 percent of the sampled student-athletes tested clean for performance-enhancing drugs.

• At least two kids are going to get help before something tragic happens. (I can only wish that my son had been "caught" and been able to receive help.)

• Ten thousand kids know firsthand that we are taking this issue seriously here in Texas.

• Millions of Texas families now know about the dangers of anabolic steroids.

Those results are, to me, an excellent definition of success.

The speed trap analogy is a particularly poor one. If officers only gave tickets at 2 out of every 10,000 traffic stops, there'd be scarce incentive to continue them. Speed traps make money because traffic violations are a lot more common than that.

Also, even if the "program was never designed to measure steroid use among high school athletes," the results are more directly probative than a survey that merely asks verbally about steroid use. The size of the sample is quite large and Texas specific. I don't think we can rely on that 3.9% figure based on these results - certainly not if next year's round of steroid testing duplicates the lower number.

I'll agree with Hooton the program served a short-term public relations benefit, but that has already been realized. Now the public relations message is actually being undermined by extremely de minimus results.

To the extent steroid abuse is a widespread problem, these data show the main nexus of its use does not lie with high school athletes. That means education and prevention resources are likely adequate for that population and enforcement spending (the 10,000 tests cost $3 million) should be reserved for groups where testing gets more bang for its buck.


Anonymous said...

Have you any stats on how many high school athletes are injured, or killed, while playing their games?

Anonymous said...

Tests could be continued with fewer students included. The extra money could be used to educate students about drug use in general.

After all, these are students and the State is better served by educating them than prosecuting them for drug use of any kind.

Anonymous said...

3,000,000 / 10,000 = $300

$300 per test is insane.

There is an elderly black woman on my street that cannot afford air conditioning. She sits on her porch until dark because it is too hot to go inside.

I'd like to sit one of those teenage athletes down beside that old woman and have Donald Hooton explain to her why we should spend tax dollars testing that kid for steroids instead of buying her a window unit and giving her two months worth of electricity.

Anonymous said...

Teenager kills himself because he can't take steroids anymore - government flushes 3 million down the toilet.

From the front page of today's Houston Chronicle:

UT frat boy drinks himself to death - family gets 4.5 million.

HPD cop accidentally shots 14 year old boy - family only gets 1.5 million.

Moral of the story - the more responsibility you have for stupid death, the more everybody else has to pay up.

Chronicle stories:

Michael said...

I'm sorry for Mr. Hooton's loss, but that very loss makes it hard for him to be objective about steroid testing. If there had been 450 positive results, instead of 2, would he still say that we shouldn't be drawing conclusions? I think the tests did deter some students -- no doubt -- but I do doubt whether the numbers were enough to justify the program. There's better ways to spend the money -- both combating teen steroid use and otherwise.

I also think the comparison in the comments between the hazing death settlement and the HPD wrongful death settlement is meaningless. Each of those cases has its own fact pattern; we know something about both cases but nothing close to everything. The $4.2 million was against a non-governmental actor, which didn't have the immunities or procedural landmines that the suit against HPD would face.

Anonymous said...

What we need is drug testing for the members of the Lege, since they're the ones coming up with these incredibly wasteful ideas.

Anonymous said...

Fact pattern or not, these two examples reflect a real failure in the justice system.

What the examples don't describe is when and if anyone will actually receive anything of value from the settlement. After all, appeals will take years, taxes, leagal fees and inflation will eat at the value of the settlement and the individuals that suffered will be ill from all the stress of dealing with a justice system that is about anything but justice.

Everyone looses when tax dollars are spent on useless tests and the justice system remains dysfunctional.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:22 People like you make me sick,She can't be an elderly lady she has to be a elderly black lady.

Anonymous said...

Why does pointing out that she is black make you sick?

Anonymous said...

What is the point! I agree with Anon 6:16

Anonymous said...

Don't let the UA lab that does the tests for the Bexar County Adult probation department test the kids! They will all show up positive!!!!!!!!!!!