Don Hooton readily admits that he is on a crusade. But don’t confuse his passion for keeping teens off steroids with an absolutist mindset to rid the world of performance-enhancing drugs. In the years since his son Taylor tragically took his own life in a fit of depression brought on by the sudden withdrawal from steroids, Don Hooton has gathered more knowledge on the subject of teen steroid use than just about anyone. And in that pursuit to educate our youth on the very real medical issues that face teen steroid users, Don Hooton, through the Taylor Hooton Foundation which he is president of, has one simple request of the bodybuilding community – to help him keep kids off steroids. As he puts it, “What 30-year-olds do with their bodies is someone else’s battle. This is all about the kids.”
Steroidology recently sat down with Don Hooton to discuss the foundation’s work and just how the bodybuilding community can help in keeping steroids away from growing adolescents.
Let’s start at the beginning. Your son’s tragedy that lead you to start the foundation…
My youngest son Taylor committed suicide in 2003. Before he reached the hospital he was already dead. The police were in our home and the chief detective came up to me and said, “Mr. Hooton, did you know Taylor was doing steroids?” And it was clear with what the officer told me that he immediately made a connection between the steroids that they found in Taylor’s room and the suicide. That caught me completely off guard. You hear about steroids with professional baseball players and bodybuilders but I had no concept that steroids were capable of causing that kind of depression. In the weeks and months to follow, I reached out to try and understand what in the hell had just happened, how did I loose my boy?
And what did you learn? What did you find out?
I managed to talk with some of the worlds’ medical experts, doctors, who are familiar with these drugs and they began to explain to me the physiology, just how you can connect the dots between steroid use and depression.
Dr. Michael Scaly, who is one of the experts who serves the bodybuilding community, has a term for it called anabolic steroid-induced hypogonadism. Its when a male takes anabolic steroids, his body body stops producing testosterone and relies totally on the steroids to supply that testosterone.
You take a young man like Taylor at 17 who quit cold turkey from using steroids. Well as we found out, there is a period of time, medical experts say it can be up to a year, but during the first four to six weeks following a male stopping using steroids, the body is not producing testosterone and severe depression can set in and that’s exactly what happened with Taylor.
Besides depression, what are some of the other major health risks for teens using steroids?
Well the biggest one we talk to the kids about is cardiovascular problems – enlarges heart, high blood pressure, increased risk of stroke, good cholesterol goes down, bad cholesterol goes up. About every two years USA Today publishes an updated story on professional wrestlers and the extraordinary number of professional wrestlers who have died over a period of time from cardiovascular problems. I think the number is these wrestlers are 12 times more likely to die from cardiovascular problems than the average adult male. And the biggest common denominator here is their propensity to use anabolic steroids. So what you got here is a group of males that are otherwise healthy adults – they work out all the time, they watch their diet, their bodies are their careers, just like bodybuilders. Yet in the end, an extraordinary number of them die and a lot of people believe this is related, directly or indirectly, to the heavy usage of steroids.
That’s the kind of information we need to be equipping our young people with. They’re ultimately the ones that are going to have to make the decision [whether to use steroids or not]. You’re not going to police this out of the high schools, so the only thing we know how to do is to provide them with honest, accurate information so as young kids they can make an intelligent decision and its not just information from guys in the weight room telling them there is no risk to this stuff because there certainly is.
What advice would you give to parents who find their child using steroids? What is the recommended treatment to help a teen get off steroids?
Well, they always need to be under the care of a medical expert, a doctor. They need to be seeing their family physician if they discover their child is using steroids – especially the young males. It applies to everybody, but particularly the males. They need to seek out a doctor, however, that has some knowledge or experience with this. Sadly, as we learned, and still learn as we travel the country talking to physicians, there are very limited, scarse, medical doctors who are trained or have any experience dealing with these drugs.
One of the things we are trying to do be a catalyst to make happen is to get the medical community to draft and circulate medical protocols for steroid use. There are no medical protocols that exist that instruct a doctor how to identify, how to treat, how to ween a steroid user off of the steroids and get them back to a normal condition. As long as steroids have been around this is still a relatively new phenomenon for the medical community.
That’s amazing that the medical community is so behind. Bodybuilders have known about post-cycle therapy for a long time. It seems that doctors and even endocrinologists don’t have the same knowledge that long-time steroid users have.
Well, I just want you to stop and think about what you just said. What you just stated is an extremely accurate reflection of the reality of what’s going on. The very sad state of affairs, especially for young people, is the fact that this is all anecdotal. There are no real medical studies on steroid abuse, they would be unethical. The typical dosage for anabolic steroids for a legitimate medical prescription is in the range of about 5 to 10 mgs a day, then you taper off. I’ve talked to a couple of the professors who study and follow people in the bodybuilding community and they tell me that a typical bodybuilder is taking as much as 3000 mgs of steroids a week. Now that would be unethical for a medical doctor to study – people taking super doses of drugs, way beyond what they were medically designed to do. All the results of people using these extraordinary amounts of these drugs come from the guys in the gym talking with each other about how their cycle worked and what they experimented with. This is absolute lunacy, besides being illegal, by the way.
So you’re saying that information about steroid use coming from bodybuilders or other steroid users is not good enough.
I still continue to come under severe attacks online from members of the bodybuilding community for the crusade we got going on for young people. I’ll hear from some of these quasi experts (mostly anonymously, rarely do they use their real names) and they’ll say things like, “What did the idiot do? Didn’t he have these liver panels done? Didn’t he go through a post-cycle therapy?” Guys, we’re dealing with 16-year-old kids who are having to buy cheap street drugs to begin with. Do you really expect them to be self medicating? They’re encouraged to use illegal drugs and then criticized because they didn’t follow some self-created post-cycle therapy that you can’t find in any medical textbooks – they’re only found in some chat room on a bodybuilding board somewhere out there on the internet.
Well, then what would you like to see from the bodybuilding community so that it can help the cause of teaching young people about the medical dangers of steroid abuse, rather than be a hindrance?
Fair enough. I had one of your peers who runs another bodybuilding board call me about five years ago and we had an excellent conversation. It went something like this. He said, “Don, can we just for a moment agree to disagree about what a 30-year-old male who is doing bodybuilding chooses to put into his body and just set that aside a minute and focus on the kids and come to an agreement to agree that no adolescent should ever be getting near these drugs.” Even the bodybuilders, the intelligent ones, know that kids shouldn’t be fooling with these drugs, even if they justify in their own minds that at 25 or 30 years old that they are old enough to make their own decisions. But these kids, loading themselves up with these excess amounts of testosterone at 15, 16 years old are playing with dynamite.
The bodybuilding community needs to be responsible. When a kid comes up to you in the gym and asks you with all of this admiration “how did you get that big?,” instead of selling them steroids, you need to take a responsible position and encourage these kids to stay away from it until they have completed their growth cycle and maybe they’re in their 20s. That’s what a responsible human being, an adult, would do when they are around kids.
I recently read a study from the University of Minnesota that showed steroid use is up among teens. The study also showed that steroid use was up among non athletes, that teens are using these drugs for pure reasons of body image. Testing and the fear of being of being caught in sports has always been the deterrent for steroid use for athletes. What is the best way to discourage steroid use among those teens who may never be tested?
We believe the best approach is through education. It’s educating young people about the real dangers of these drugs. Now a responsible, knowledgeable bodybuilder or steroid user will have to admit that there a number of proven side effects. Now they’ll argue with me on some, but it’s everything from the emotional changes to depression or roid rage, the cardiovascular problems that are going to develop over a time period of using these drugs and a number of other physiological, physical problems that come along with using these drugs. But it begins with being honest with these young people about what these are and what they can do to you, what the risks are.
Again, if you get to be 25 years old and you’ve chosen to take the risk of steroid use and you’re desire to have a better body image or you want to compete in the bodybuilding competitions lead you to take those risks, so be it. But it certainly doesn’t help to stand there in the gym and deny, like we’ve run into so many times, that there are no negative side effects to using these drugs. There is some level of adult responsibility for trying to deter our young people away from this behavior.
Not all bodybuilders are irresponsible by any means.There are a group of bodybuilders who recognize that there are a number of accepted, very risky side effects that go along with these drugs. All of the cocktails that get mixed, the stacking, the cycling, the post therapy that they give themselves, by definition tells you of the severe risks that go along with these drugs. Let’s be honest with the kids about that side of the drug use.
A lot of times, we’ll do these lectures [on the risks of steroid use] and someone will talk with another guy at the gym about them and then the guy at the gym says, “Oh, that’s a lot of bullshit. Look at me. I’m healthy and I’ve been using these things for 15 years and nothing’s happened to me.” Well, there’s a lot of people who smoke for 15 years and it doesn’t kill them either but that doesn’t mean the cigarettes weren’t dangerous.
Another question about deterring kids. It seems that since the crackdown on athletes like Barry Bonds, who may never get into the Hall of Fame, and Lance Armstrong who had his Tour de France titles stripped, that a stigma has been built among athletes and the public in general about steroid users – that they are cheats and don’t deserve to be seen as heroes. Have you seen any of this in your work? Is this kind of public shaming working?
There’s alway a debate that goes on on whether it encourages or discourages. I am of a school of thought that those role models encourage the use. As tough as most these guys are and want to argue on a Website like this or on other boards about how tough they are, its interesting when they get caught with this stuff- whether it’s Lance Armstrong, whether it’s Barry Bonds, whether it’s Mark McGuire or any of these guys, they commit perjury, they lie, they deny the behavior. Well if you are such a big man and you are such a steroid proponent and you really believe that this stuff is healthy and good for you, why don’t you step up and admit it? You know, all what the kids see is the results. They see super home run potential or they see a super big guy working out at the gym. Were dealing with kids who look up to role models at the local gym. Taylor was buying his drugs from a bodybuilder at a local YMCA. Whether [a local bodybuilder] is the role model or whether the role model is Mark McGuire, it’s really not a problem as long as you don’t get caught. And for 99 % of the high schools across the country there is no penalties, there are no testing, there are no consequences that come along with using these drugs other than the risks they are taking to their body and their mind and the money they are going to have to fork out for the drugs.
That leads to another question. Because there is no testing for high school students, and a lot of colleges for that matter, what is the best way for parents and coaches to recognize steroid use among young people so that they can intervene?
Well the first thing that has to happen is to recognize how widespread this usage is. We are getting ready to release a study we did with the help of the Gallup organization and the University of Massachusetts that is going to show just how little awareness there is among the adult population about how widespread this usage is amongst the boys and especially unaware that there are girls using them, too.
So the first step is to have the adult influencers – teachers, coaches, parents – to wake up and realize how many of of our children have gone down this path. Secondly, we got to talk to our kids. There was a study done by Proctor & Gamble, a marketing study, that showed that 85% of our children report they never had an adult – a coach, a parent, a teacher – talk with them about why they shouldn’t be using these drugs. So you’ve got a group of impressionable kids who are getting messages from their role models – whether it’s at the gym or whether it’s the professional athlete, or Olympic athletes. They’re getting all these messages about how well these drugs work, which they do by the way, and they’re getting almost virtually no messages on why they shouldn’t be using these drugs – the risks and the dangers.
Many of the kids we talk to don’t even realize that they are illegal drugs. They think, “What can be wrong with a ‘performance-enhancing drug?’” Just think about what we call them.
Do you think the new advertising push we see for testosterone replacement on TV could be influencing kids as well?
That one upsets me severely. Kids see this stuff and think, “What could possibly be wrong with a drug Dad’s using?” It is our hope that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration and others will get involved and put a stop to a lot of this testosterone replacement stuff, which we believe, and a lot of doctors we work with believe, is illegal in and of itself. In the sense of whether it is legitimate use in the strict medical sense of the word to write a prescription and not just another vehicle for steroid sales.
How might your message have to be changed as newer drugs are developed and become available? It’s not just anabolic steroids anymore. Labs seem to be making new PEDs all the time.
You’ve made a huge assumption in your question. Let me guess. What you have in your mind’s eye is what most people do – that there are guys in white coats developing these drugs and instead of selling them out through a hospital or Wallgreens, these drugs are finding their way into the gym or onto the athletic field. That is not what is happening. What the DEA tells us is that almost 100% of the drugs that are being sold on the street originate in China. And you can call those guys scientists if you will, but who the hell knows what kind of scientists are developing this stuff?
It gets converted into a powder, shipped over here in powder form, a local bodybuilder-type takes delivery of these powders, mixes them with oils – sesame seed oil, Wesson oil. I met a football coach in Canada come up to me after one of my lecture and said, “Mr. Hooton, I’m ashamed to admit it but when I played college football, I used steroids and my supplier in Waterloo, Canada was mixing the powder with Armor All.” The point is, who the hell knows what is in those vials?
You would think that the professional athletes or professional bodybuilders might, underline might, be acquiring their drugs from a prescription from a medical doctor and the stuff will have come from Merc or from Abbott Labs or whatever and it may very well be what I call legitimate steroids. But the overwhelming majority of what is sold on the streets and at the gym is counterfeit steroids – almost all of it. And it’s buyer beware. It says it’s Deca Durabolin, it says its Anadol – who the hell knows what is in those substances. One of the things you’ll find if you go out on the bodybuilding boards, just three or four years ago, there were a group of bodybuilders who when they realized their stuff was coming from China, they thought “Maybe possibly this stuff could be contaminated with some foreign substances,” and they had a group of these liquid vials tested by labs and found that 21% of the substances that were being sold on the street here in the US were contaminated with lead, mercury, zinc, tin or arsenic. The kids need to know this information so at least if and when they develop some malady that’s related to ingesting heavy metals, at least they knew that up front.
What are your concerns for how to deal with new technologies in performance-enhancing drugs? It’s not just anabolic androgenic steroids now. There are insulin growth factors, HGH, etc. How does that play into dealing with the message to young people who might be swayed to take one of these new drugs because they are told they are safer that older drugs like testosterone?
It’s a huge problem. And there’s another dimension to your question about the new drugs vs. the existing drugs. The new drugs are being designed to not be detected by today’s testing regimen. As limited as steroid testing has been, today’s drugs are being designed to not be detected by the tests. But you’re right, it’s now insulin growth factor, its human growth hormone and for a parent who’s lost a child, it’s scary as hell. And it is going to be a battle for folks like us with our limited resources to try and keep up with the information so that we can relay accurate information to our kids so that they know enough to stay away from this stuff. Hopefully some of our more responsible leaders in the bodybuilding community will help us to do that.
Any final thoughts you’d like to see in this article? A statement you’d like our readers to take away?
This is about our nation’s children here. My battle is not with the bodybuilders that are reading this article right now. I want them to think about their younger brothers and for those who are older, their own children. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old is when many of these kids are beginning to use these drugs. From that University of Minnesota study, 5.9% of boys from the sixth grade through the 12th grade used steroids and I would just ask your readers to please help us ensure that these kids who are still in puberty, still developing, to help us keep these kids away from these drugs until they are mature adults and are in a position to make an informed decision with the best benefit from all the information that is available.