AUSTIN (AP) — Concerned that over-the-counter dietary supplements could cause positive tests, state officials were divided Monday over whether Texas should consider delaying its high school steroid testing program.
“It’s better to get it right than get it fast,” said Gov. Rick Perry, who signed the testing program into law last month. Perry said that could mean even waiting until after football season, which starts Aug 30.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who made the issue one of the priorities for the state Senate, said there’s no reason to delay.
Andrea Wickerham, vice president of the National Center for Drug Free Sport, said a 2005 federal law reduced the risk of positive tests from supplements by removing many so called “pro-hormones” that could be detected as steroids.
The University Interscholastic League is gearing up to start a program that could test more than 20,000 students a year in all sports, not just football. A positive test mandates a 30-day suspension from play on the first offense.
But concerns raised by the bill’s sponsor that nutritional supplements, which some kids use to add weight or build muscle, could have ingredients that trigger positive tests prompted Perry to urge caution.
The bill does not set a firm date when testing will start other than it should be in the 2007-2008 school year.
Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston, has said the state needs time to either alert parents and students about supplements, or find a way to accommodate for the supplements when testing.
“They may be able to find the solution between now and when football starts, but it’s better to get it right than to have a flawed test,” Perry said.
Some state officials and drug-testing experts are urging high school athletes to simply avoid nutritional supplements.
“The message should be: ‘Don’t take supplements at all,’ said Jeff Kloster, associate commissioner of the Texas Education Agency. “I believe that we have to do everything we can to get all the education out there as quickly as we can before we start testing.”
At the college level, the NCAA web site warns that supplements can trigger positive tests. Athletes are warned they assume some risk by taking them.
Wickerham oversees drug testing of about 15,000 NCAA athletes per year. Testing labs can’t determine whether a steroid was injected or ingested through something bought in a store, she said.
“Most sport governing bodies don’t care about the source. If a test picks up an anabolic steroid, it’s an anabolic steroid and that is a competitive advantage,” she said.
New Jersey, the first state to test high school athletes, carries a similar warning. The state also puts the risk and responsibility on the athlete.
Dewhurst said the concern is not enough to slow down the Texas program.
“We’ve had this going on with Olympic sports, with pro teams (and) the NCAA for years and it hasn't been a problem,” Dewhurst said.
Dewhurst said one solution could include having students tell their coaches whether they take supplements to have it on record.
“I think the message is you need to get off supplements, those that could have some elements which could result in a positive test,” Dewhurst said.
UIL spokeswoman Kim Rogers said Monday officials are sending all Texas high schools a 16-minute DVD about steroids and testing. It includes warnings that nutritional supplements could affect test results.
A letter about the steroid tests that parents must sign also warns about supplements, Rogers said.
“For the most part, if they take recommended dosage, they probably won’t have a problem. But we can’t regulate their dosage,” Rogers said.