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U.S. survey finds sharp increase in use of synthetic human growth hormones by teens

Experimentation with human growth hormones by America's teens more than doubled in the past year, as more young people looked to drugs to boost their athletic performance and improve their looks, according to a new, large-scale U.S. national survey.


July 23, 2014
By David Crary The Associated Press

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In a confidential 2013 survey of 3,705 high school students, released by
the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 11 per cent reported using
synthetic HGH at least once – up from about five per cent in the four
preceding annual surveys. Teen use of steroids increased from five per
cent to seven per cent over the same period, the survey found.

Travis
Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, depicted the numbers as
alarming but not surprising, given the extensive online marketing of
performance-enhancing substances and near-total lack of any drug testing
for high school athletes.

“It’s what you get when you combine
aggressive promotion from for-profit companies with a vulnerable target –
kids who want a quick fix and don’t care about health risk,” Tygart
said in an interview. “It’s a very easy sell, unfortunately.”

Nine per cent of teen girls reported trying synthetic HGH and 12 per cent of boys.

“A
picture emerges of teens – both boys and girls – entering a largely
unregulated marketplace (online and in-store) in which
performance-enhancing substances of many varieties are aggressively
promoted with promises of improved muscle mass, performance and
appearance,” said the report. “This is an area of apparently growing
interest and potential danger to teens that cries out for stricter
controls on manufacture and marketing.”

Given the high cost of
authentic HGH, it’s possible that some of the teens who reported using
it may in fact have obtained fake products. As the survey said, “It’s
very difficult to know what exactly is in the substances teens are
consuming, or what the short and long-term impact on their health may
be.”

Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free
Kids, said the motives of today’s youthful dopers were different from
the rebellious or escapist attitudes that traditionally accompanied teen
drinking and pot-smoking.

“This is about how you feel, how you
look,” Pasierb said. “They’re doing this thing to get ahead… Girls
want to be thin and toned. For a lot of boys, it’s about their six
pack.”

He urged parents to talk candidly with their children
about the dangers of performance-enhancing substances, but to avoid
moralizing.

“It’s not about illegality, or whether you’re a good
parent or bad parent,” he said. “It’s a health issue. These substances
literally alter your body.”

Pasierb said high school coaches have
a key role in combatting doping. Some are vigilant, others oblivious,
and perhaps a third are prepared to tolerate doping in the interests of
winning, he said.

The new survey noted that the upsurge in teen
HGH use occurred even as famous athletes were caught up in high-profile
doping cases. Last August, Major League Baseball punished Alex Rodriguez
with a lengthy suspension after investigating his use of
performance-enhancing drugs. A few months earlier, Lance Armstrong
admitted in a TV interview to doping throughout his cycling career.

One
of Armstrong’s former teammates is Tyler Hamilton, who was forced to
return his 2004 Olympic gold medal after being found guilty of doping.
In recent public appearances, Hamilton has implored young athletes to
resist the temptation to dope.

“There’s so much pressure on
winning – it’s tough for these kids to stay true to themselves,” he
said. “I can’t change every kid’s mind, but if I can do my part and
other people do their part, we can beat this monster.”

Tygart,
who as USADA’s chief oversaw investigations of Armstrong and Hamilton,
noted that stringent testing regimens are an increasingly effective
deterrent to doping among athletes in major pro sports and in
international competitions.

“But most young athletes are not in
any testing program, and their chance of getting caught is zero,” he
said. “When left unchecked, the win-at-all-cost culture will take over
and athletes will make the wrong decision.”

Synthetic HGH is
supposed to be available only by prescription, yet products claiming to
contain HGH are widely promoted and enforcement of the regulations is
inconsistent, Tygart said.

Among the groups seeking to reverse
the teen doping trend is the Texas-based Taylor Hooton Foundation, named
after a 17-year-old high school athlete whose suicide in 2003 was
blamed by his family on his use of anabolic steroids. Its staff has
spoken to thousands of young people at school assemblies and sports
camps.

Donald Hooton Sr., Taylor’s father and the foundation’s
president, depicted teen doping as an epidemic fueled by widespread
ignorance among parents and coaches. He estimated that more than 1.5
million youths in the U.S. have tried steroids.

Information about
teen use of performance-enhancing drugs is readily available online.
The Mayo Clinic, for example, provides a list of possible hazards and
side-effects, including stunted growth, acne, liver problems, shrunken
testicles for boys and excess facial hair for girls.

The clinic
urges parents to check the ingredients of over-the-counter products used
by their teens, and to be on the lookout for warning signs, including
increased aggressiveness, rapid weight gain, and needle marks in the
buttocks or thighs.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids survey also reported on other forms of substance abuse. Among its findings:


Forty-four per cent of teens report using marijuana at least once
within their lifetime; 24 per cent report using within the past month;
and seven per cent report using at least 20 times within the past month.
These levels have remained stable over the past five years.


After a sharp increase in teen misuse and abuse of prescription drugs in
2012, the rate remained stable in 2013, with 23 per cent of teens
reporting such abuse or misuse at least once. Fifteen per cent reported
having used the prescription painkillers Vicodin or OxyContin without a
prescription at some point.

– The survey of 3,705 students in grades 9 through 12 was conducted at their schools between February and June of 2013.

The margin of error was calculated at plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

Founded
in 1987, the New York-based Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is a
non-profit working to reduce teen substance abuse and support families
affected by addiction.


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