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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 8, 2007

Testing too costly for many schools

By Eddie Pells
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Keith Amemiya

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They were thinking big in New Mexico. Encouraged by the Drug Enforcement Administration, state officials staged a national summit to discuss solutions for the growing problem of steroids in high school sports.

The governor pledged $330,000 to start a testing program. He created a steroid task force.

A few months later, the task force decided "that implementing a steroid testing program ... would be costly, would most likely result in legality issues and would have difficulty passing in the state legislature," Robert Zayas of the New Mexico Activities Association said.

Different versions of that story are being told around the nation.

An AP analysis of the 50 states found that Texas, Florida and New Jersey are the only three whose legislatures have mandated some kind of steroid testing for high school athletes.

California and Michigan also have passed steroids-in-schools laws, and a handful of others have statutes on the books that forbid performance-enhancing drugs, though none of those laws has the teeth to mandate testing.

Few other states have found traction for such legislation. Budgetary, logistical and political difficulties have left the burden of starting these programs with state athletic associations and local school districts.

Many state athletic associations that have looked at comprehensive testing programs and found them too costly. Most steroids tests cost between $100 and $175 to administer, which may not sound like much. But multiply it by 100 or 1,000 and it's obvious that it's not an expense most school districts can afford.

"Steroid use is very serious and we don't condone it in any way, but there's cost and legal issues," said Keith Amemiya, executive director of the Hawai'i High School Athletic Association. "And there are a lot of other drugs we're concerned about as well."

Such conclusions are disappointing to Don Hooton, whose 17-year-old son, Taylor, committed suicide in 2003. Doctors believe Taylor Hooton became depressed after he stopped using steroids. Since Taylor's death, Hooton has been traveling the country trying to goad state legislatures into mandating steroid testing.

"What we learned is if we had to rely on individual school districts or the state athletic association to do it, we might have done it, but it would've been a very hard road," Hooton said.

He said once the Texas legislature came to grips with the money issue, all the other roadblocks dissolved more easily.

In one recent national survey, 1.8 percent of high school seniors admitted to having taken steroids at least once in the past year.

Governors in Florida and Texas recently signed their laws, which will take effect in the upcoming school year.

The Texas law will create the most expansive testing in the country, with about $3 million being allotted to test "a statistically significant sample" of students. The high school association will determine penalties for positive tests.

The Florida law calls for a one-year pilot program in which 1 percent of athletes in football, baseball and weightlifting will take tests; the legislation included $100,000 for the testing. Violators will be suspended from their teams.