The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Steroid usage in high schools

May 24, 2022

According to a 2019 High School Youth Risk and Behavior Surveillance Survey, 6.7% of Californian high school students had taken steroids without a doctor’s prescription, which may not seem like much until the data is applied to a whole school. 

High school students who had taken steroids without a doctor’s prescription by Rintaro Sato

Based on data from the 2018-2019 school year, Carlmont high school had an enrollment of 2,216. Theoretically, if the data from the previously mentioned study was applied to Carlmont, 6.7% of Carlmont’s students would be approximately 148 students. 

Now, this obviously is not a number that can be trusted, but rather a number to put into perspective the problem of steroid usage in high schools. Carlmont very much may be an outlier to the stats, bringing the state average down. 

That is exactly what longtime Carlmont athletic director Patrick Smith believes, citing the fact that he has never heard about any cases of steroid usage in his 13 years of being the Athletic Director for the Scots. 

“Fortunately, I’ve never had that come to me or even any rumors of [steroid usage] come to me since I’ve been the athletic director and even prior to that, as a PE teacher,” Smith said. 

However, due to the high numbers suggested from the previously mentioned High School Youth Risk and Behavior Surveillance Survey, the author has doubts about the lack of cases at Carlmont. 

One potential reason that explains the lack of reported cases at Carlmont is the fact that there is no physical testing required for anabolic steroids to participate in sports. 

“No testing at the high school level is required for steroid use,” Smith said.

Instead, there are simply online clearance procedures that student-athletes and their guardians have to complete, such as this waiver shown on the right:

The mandatory steroid policy form is given to student-athletes at Carlmont. (Rintaro Sato)

While it would be great to have access to testing at Carlmont to crack the case of high school steroids, the potential cost of those tests handcuffs Smith and the athletic department.

“If you were to do a comprehensive steroid testing program for every athlete in high school, I think the costs would be very exorbitant. I don’t believe that the majority of high schools have the funds to afford those tests,” Smith said.

In a 2005 ESPN article about the costs of steroid abuse on society, the NCAA said that the cost for each steroid test was $271, which is indeed an exorbitant price to pay, especially for a public school such as Carlmont.

Because testing every student-athlete is undoubtedly out of the question, the last wall of defense seems to be waiver forms and an athletic honor code. Would this be enough to discourage student-athletes?

“I think that while most people would be morally inclined to follow these rules, others may use the lack of physical testing to their advantage,” said sophomore baseball player Benjamin Sunahara.

Another potential reason for the lack of reported steroid cases is simple: perhaps the lens needs to be widened beyond simply student-athletes.

In a study by Rebecca L ElkinsKeith KingLaura Nabors, and Rebecca Vidourek called “School and Parent Factors Associated With Steroid Use Among Adolescents,” the researchers found that “rates of steroid use differed significantly based on school and parent factors, but not sports participation.”

Outside of sports, while there is no official Carlmont policy against anabolic steroid usage, there is a reason for its absence.

According to administrative principal Grant Steunenberg, Carlmont follows the California Education Code regarding any student’s illegal drug use, which states the following.

“A student who has committed the following acts is subject to discipline by suspension or expulsion: […] Unlawfully possessed, used, sold, or otherwise furnished, or been under the influence of, any controlled substance listed in Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 11053) of Division 10 of the Health and Safety Code, an alcoholic beverage, or an intoxicant of any kind.”

This excerpt already covers the “policy” that Carlmont would follow in the case of anabolic steroid cases, which, according to Steunenberg, is why a policy at Carlmont does not have an explicitly clear steroid “policy.” 

Another glaring takeaway from the education code is how testing is outright illegal for the administration.

In another excerpt, the Code states this:

“The Legislature hereby finds and declares that the use of anabolic steroids to expedite the physical development and to enhance the performance level of secondary school athletes presents a serious health hazard to these student-athletes. It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this measure that, beginning with the 1987–88 school year, schools are encouraged to include in instruction in grades 7 to 12, inclusive, science, health, drug abuse, or physical education programs a lesson on the effects of the use of anabolic steroids.”

Now, this noticeably does not outline any required testing for students in these schools.

When asked about the testing, Steunenberg confirmed this is the case.

“It is illegal for us to subject students to drug tests,” Steunenberg said. “What I can do is if I have what is called reasonable suspicion to think that a person may be in possession of steroids, then I can search that person’s belongings and of their person to try and find the steroids.”

This reasonable suspicion has to be free of prejudice, Steunenberg later elaborated.

“I can’t just look at a student who might be in great shape and search them. Not only is that not enough [evidence], that’s invoking a prejudice. This person conceivably could work hard in the weight room,” Steunenberg said.

However, this lack of testing does leave a noticeable opportunity for numerous steroid users to go unnoticed potentially.

“If people are using steroids, most of the time, they’re never going to get caught unless they are in a program that [tests for steroids], and we don’t have that at the high school level,” Steunenberg said.

For minors, no organization usually has the ability to test [for steroids].”

— Grant Steunenberg, Carlmont Administrative Vice Principal

This lack of testing is most likely the most significant reason why steroid cases go unreported throughout high schools. While the possession or sale of anabolic steroids without a valid prescription is illegal in the United States, with schools not allowed to check for the usage of these growth enhancers, the best administrations can do are to spread awareness of the consequences of steroid usage.

This uncertainty around the lack of physical testing for all students (athletes or not) has caused a number of steroid cases to go unreported throughout high schools, possibly explaining the lack of confirmed cases at Carlmont.

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