Albany -- Performance-enhancing drugs have made their way into our high schools, even middle schools.
Steroid use in America more than doubled between 1991 and 2003. Many of our teenage athletes are using topical creams, taking pills, even injecting themselves with steroids so they can be bigger, run faster and have a competitive edge. Think it doesn't happen here? You're wrong.
We spoke with a high school senior from Albany. He plays football and suspects that some of his teammates use anabolic steroids. "There'll be a select few, you can tell, a select few people doing it," he said.
And the numbers support it. The latest national survey of steroid use among teens shows that 3.5 percent of high school seniors admitted to using steroids at least once.
"Sometimes doing physicals, I'll notice an increase in size from the previous year," said Pediatrician Dr. Stacy Evans.
Evans says the signs are easy to spot: sudden growth, even stretch marks.
Steroids, which pump up the users' muscles, can trigger serious side effects, including liver damage, tumors, sexual impotency, and erratic mood swings.
Our student saw it firsthand in one of his closest friends. "He got angry really fast. The dumbest things he'd get angry at."
Change in behavior is a common side effect of steroid use. "More aggressive and irritated, last out a little bit more," Evans said.
Symptoms sometimes referred to as roid rage, believed to have been a factor in the deaths of pro wrestler Chris Benoit and his family. But as with many things, teens don't often worry about what'll happen later.
"That age group, it's hard for them to get past the surface. They want to look better and don't feel bad right now. They don't notice the side effects until maybe years later," Evans said.
Here in Dougherty County, school athletics director Johnny Seabrooks says in his more than 20-years on the job, he's never known a high school athlete to use steroids.
But our local football player says it goes on regularly. "His senior year, his bench press went from 300 pounds to 400 pounds. I never said anything to him."
And neither did the coach. Coaches are supposed to notify an athlete's parents if they suspect steroid use, but do they? "I think coaches notice, but it's a don't ask, don't tell kinda thing," our student said.
Recognizing this growing steroid problem, Florida and Texas now have laws requiring mandatory steroid testing of high school athletes. But steroid testing is expensive because..
"Steroids are synthethic and so they just change the way it's manufactured," Dr. Evans said. And even harder to detect when users take the drug in cycles, which is what our student observed.
"They did it in cycles, so if a coach tested him, he's clean. He does it in the summer and then he's good to go for the season," the student said.
Dr. Ralph Swearngin, executive director of the Georgia High School Association, says testing raises questions about privacy, potential litigation and expense.
With steroid tests costing as much as $250 per athlete, Dr. Swearngin says there's a better way to spend that money. "If we're going to spend millions on testing, put that money into education so rather than spending money on catching people using steroids, use it to prevent people from using steroids."
The National Council on drug abuse has two such programs called Atlas and Athena. "The coaches and mentors talk with athletes about steroids and other life dangers including seat belt usage and alcohol," Dr. Evans said.
Ralph Swearngin agrees. "If that's what local school principals and superintendents want to do, then I think that's a good option to go to."
So that hopefully, young athletes will stay away from steroids. "Steroids are addictive like cocaine or crack. They will develop a tolerance and drug seeking behavior and will think they have to have these things now to function," Dr. Evans said.
And that's a scary thought. Steroids can be used three ways, topical creams, pills or injections. And you probably won't be surprised to know that they are easily purchased on, you guessed it, the internet.