Monday, February 23, 2009

Drug testing and the lesson of Taylor Hooton

Texas just released results from the second year of its drug testing program for high school athletes. Of 19,000 tests administered, the number of positive results was just seven.

This just fuels the debate about such tests. Advocates say they're an effective deterrent - kids don't do performance-enhancing drugs when they fear being caught. Skeptics question how a program that catches seven kids a year could be worth the cost - $6 million.

Texas, New Jersey and Illinois are the only states that test high school athletes for steroids. Florida dropped its program recently, after testing 600 kids and turning up one steroid user.

I get into this subject in depth in Until It Hurts, my book about the troubled state of youth sports (Publication date: April 1). I write at length about Taylor Hooton, the Texas teenager and baseball pitcher who committed suicide. His dad believes Taylor took his life because of earlier steroid abuse.

In the book, Don Hooton tells me that his son got instructions from a coach to "get bigger" if he hoped to make the varsity the following season. Taylor opted to get bigger using steroids, tragically.

I like what Don Hooton has to say to the Associated Press about the value of mandatory steroid testing, even when the program turns up just a few positives: "They don't stop testing Olympic athletes just because most of them don't test positive."

My view is this: the alternatives to testing programs that cost too much and catch few drug abusers are even less acceptable.

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