HGH use on the rise in teens, survey finds
NEW YORK — 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 national survey.
In a confidential 2013 survey of 3,705 high school students, being released on Wednesday by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 11 percent reported using synthetic HGH at least once — up from about 5 percent in the four preceding annual surveys. Teen use of steroids increased from 5 percent to 7 percent 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.
Nine percent of teen girls and 12 percent of boys reported trying synthetic HGH.
Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, said the motives of 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.
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 have tried steroids.
The survey of 3,705 students in grades 9-12 was conducted between February and June of 2013.
The margin of error was calculated at plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.