by Jeff Clemetson
According to a report issued last month by the Partnership For Drug-Free Kids, steroid use, and especially hGH use, among teens rose to a five year high in 2013. In fact, the report showed that use of hGH among high school students more than doubled from the previous year.
In 2012, the percent of students who reported “ever having used” steroids was five percent. In 2013, that number jumped to seven percent. For hGH specifically, the percent of students in grades 9-12 who had ever tried using the drug jumped from five percent to 11 percent. The study also showed that Hispanic and African-American students used steroids and/or hGH at a higher percentage than Caucasian students. Twelve percent of boys and nine percent of girls reported using HGH and/or steroids.
“These new data point to a troubling development among today’s teens. Young people are seeking out and using performance-enhancing substances like synthetic hGH – and supplements purporting to contain hGH – hoping to improve athletic performance or body appearance without really knowing what substances they are putting into their bodies,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.
Teens are susceptible to steroid use for the same reasons adults want to use them – to look better. However, steroids react much differently in a growing body than in one that is fully grown. Despite the risks, many teens perceive the risks as negligible, compared to the gains they think they will get with a better body, better athletic performance or any other perceived attribute that will help them during the often social awkwardness of adolescence.
“What I encounter when talking to teens is the significant pressure they feel to excel,” said former professional cyclist and anti-doping advocate, Tyler Hamilton, who gave back his Olympic Gold medal after admitting to performance-enhancing drug use throughout his career. “Whether it’s in sports, school, social status or appearance, teens feel they need to be better. The study provides a good opportunity for parents and other influential figures in their lives to realize what teens are facing and reinforce a message of unconditional love and acceptance.”
Pasierb also lays blame on the supplement industry and its lack of regulation as a driving force behind the skyrocketing use of performance-enhancing drugs in teens.
“These are not products that assure safety and efficacy. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines must go through rigorous testing to be proven safe before being sold to the public, but supplement products appear on store shelves without regulation from the Food and Drug Administration and must actually be proven unsafe before being removed from sale,” he said. “That creates a false perception of safety driving impressionable teens to risk their health with potentially dangerous products that are untested. And while it’s doubtful that all of the teens who reported having used synthetic hGH actually obtained prescribed synthetic human growth hormone, the proliferation of commercially available products that are marketed saying they contain synthetic hGH, or promote the natural production of hGH within the body, is staggering.”
Another factor in the rising use of PEDs among teens is a lack of knowledge about these drugs among parents, coaches, teachers and administrators. Only 58 percent of parents report discussing steroid use with their children and only 3 percent believe their children have ever tried them.
Pasierb believes education, combined with stricter regulations, will be the best remedy to keep teens from using steroids and hGH. Without them, he says, teens will be in the dark about their dangers and prone to becoming “marketing targets” of the supplement industry.
“Given the current regulatory framework of the supplement industry, and the amount of products being marketed and sold online, it is difficult if not impossible to know what exactly is contained in these products teens are consuming. So the implication for parents, healthcare professionals, policy makers and regulators is that this is an area of apparently growing interest, involvement and potential danger to teens that calls for serious evaluation of the areas in which current controls on manufacturing and marketing are failing to prevent the use of these products by teens.”