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High School Steroid Tests Likely to Get Scrapped in Texas

In 2008, Texas implemented a statewide steroid-testing program that experts believed to be the nation's most comprehensive, carrying a two-year, $6 million budget. Seven years later, that program could be on its last legs.

"After spending $10 million testing more than 63,000 students to catch just a handful of cheaters, Texas lawmakers appear likely to defund the program this summer," Jim Vertuno of the Associated Press reported March 20. If Texas does ditch its steroid-testing program, New Jersey and Illinois would be the lone states still testing their student-athletes for steroids.

Under the program, all of the state's 700,000-plus public school student-athletes were initially eligible to be randomly chosen and forced to give a urine sample. However, according to Vertuno, the state's first 19,000 tests uncovered just nine positive results, along with an additional 60 "protocol violations." Of the 2,083 student-athletes tested for steroids in the fall of 2010, only one returned a positive result and another turned up as a protocol violation.

Texas legislators originally put the program on the potential chopping block in 2011, with the state House of Representatives' first draft budget cutting the program's funding entirely. However, the state legislature wound up agreeing on a budget bill that maintained roughly $1.5 million for student-athlete steroid tests over the following two years.

In a May 2014 report, the state's Sunset Advisory Commission recommended discontinuing the statewide program, citing its cost and diminishing effectiveness. The program, which has cost the state nearly $10 million, has uncovered just 40 positive tests—"less than one-half of 1 percent of all students tested," according to the Dallas Observer.

"Since the program began, changing attitudes in Texas and nationally toward steroid use have resulted in reduced use among teens," the commission wrote in its report. "Additionally, the Legislature has reduced funding for the program each biennium, resulting in fewer tests being conducted and diminishing the program's deterrent effect."

Don Hooton, whose son, Taylor, was a former Texas high school player whose 2003 suicide was linked to steroids, confessed to the AP his belief that "we made a huge mistake" with the program.

"Coaches, schools, and politicians have used the abysmal number of positive tests to prove there's no steroid problem," Hooton said. "What did we do here? We just lulled the public to sleep."

The Sunset Advisory Commission says Texas would save $500,000 annually by discontinuing the steroid-testing program. It did recommend, however, maintaining the educational component, as it "would ensure coaches and students remain aware of the dangers of steroids." Individual districts would be allowed to implement their own steroid-testing programs if they saw fit.

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