December 1, 2015
With limited restrictions to monitor the use of over-the-counter (OTC) substances in high school, teen athletes dangerously have free reign over which substances they consume to enhance their performance.
In October, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) suspended University of Florida quarterback Will Grier for a full calendar year due to his use of an OTC substance without permission from the team’s medical staff. In high schools, teen athletes frequently consume similar substances to up their game.
According to multiple sources, Grier unknowingly took Ligandrol, a banned substance considered a performance-enhancing drug (PED). UF denies these reports.
The continuation of the University of Florida’s success on the field this season remains the Gators’ prime concern, as backup quarterback Treon Harris leads the team for the remainder of the season. Nonetheless, the issue surrounding Grier’s ignorance of the substance’s contents persists.
Each year, male and female high school athletes take OTC substances for a variety of reasons, including improving athletic performance, gaining weight and increasing muscle mass.
According to Mayo Clinic, 1 in 20 teens uses steroids for athletic purposes, and approximately 11% of all high school students have taken synthetic Human Growth Hormones (HGH) at least once in their lifetime, consisting of 9% girls and 12% boys. HGH, a hormone naturally found in the body, aids cell growth in adolescents and controls bone and muscle growth. Although available solely via prescription, various OTC substances contain HGH as a component.
Teen athletes commonly take creatine, an OTC substance for intense periods of energy and muscle mass. Other PEDs used by high school athletes include androstenedione and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which eventually become anabolic steroids – a type of synthetic testosterone – once converted by the body.
Though student athletes use these OTC substances to improve performance and physical ability, they cause side effects including blood clotting, permanent growth stunting, a decrease in sperm production in males, and complications with blood pressure, cholesterol, the liver and temperament. In most students who take these substances, physical and emotional indicators may imply their use. Side effects may include aggression, weight gain, a shift in breast size and recently dimpled areas of the body.
Not only has the use of steroids among teens caused damaging effects on the body, but also on the mind. Taylor Hooton, a 17-year-old athlete from Plano, Texas, committed suicide in 2003 allegedly due to anabolic steroid use.
In July 2013, a Biogenesis of America clinic in Miami, founded by Anthony Bosch, illegally distributed PEDs to professional and high school athletes, encouraging their use among youths. Reports revealed that at least 10 high school baseball players received PEDs, most of whom attended the clinic with a parent. The distributed drugs included HGH and testosterone supplements. Among many professional, college, and high school athletes, New York Yankees third baseman and Westminster Christian graduate Alex Rodriguez allegedly received PEDs from the same clinic, which authorities shut down two years ago.
While the majority of high school athletes knowingly take OTC substances with the notion of improving their athletic abilities, some may consume banned substances unintentionally. For example, HGH is found in multiple OTC substances despite its prescription-only use as specified by doctors.
“There should be a specific list of everything you cannot take, and then if you are going to go over-the-counter, you should check that list, and if it’s on it, then obviously you have to go to your trainer and approve it,” sophomore Ryan Macinnes said. “Even if you don’t think anything’s wrong with it, even if you’re going to Walgreens or something to get something over-the-counter, you still have to check.”
At the high school level, however, regulations differ from those in college. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) laws, which include a Privacy Rule, Security Rule, Breach Notification Rule, and Patient Safety Rule, prohibit doctors and parents from disclosing students’ health information to schools. Therefore, students’ actions are based solely on an honor-code system, trusting that they do not take illegal substances.
“I believe whatever they don’t allow in college, they shouldn’t allow in high school, because they’ve done the studies and they’ve done the research necessary to find out how it affects a growing body,” athletic director Steve Batten said. “Just like GPA, credits, two years of a language, what have you, it’s all about moving to the next level and a higher learning.”
Though random testing would help monitor substance consumption, high costs serve as a decisive barrier to high schools with tight athletic budgets. In Miami-Dade County alone, the chances that schools will introduce random testing are slim.
“If you’re a great athlete, make sure you’re a great athlete on your own, not because you’re taking something to help out,” Batten said.