AUSTIN, Texas — The nation’s largest high school steroids testing program may fall victim to budget cuts.
Texas has tested thousands of high school athletes since 2008 in an effort to stop teens from taking the dangerous performance-enhancing drugs. But a state House budget has eliminated money for the program.
Tough economic times are prompting many school districts across the country to pull back from testing, just a few years after a series of scandals in professional and amateur sports.
“When steroids was all over the media, everybody said, ‘We’ve got to have it,’ ’’ said Chris Franz of Sport Safe, an Ohio-based company that conducts steroid and recreational drug testing.
In 2008, Texas became the third state to begin steroid testing, setting up a massive $6 million program. All 700,000-plus public school athletes were eligible to be randomly selected, pulled from class, and required to submit a urine sample.
But after the first 50,000 tests produced fewer than two dozen confirmed cases, critics derided the effort as a waste of money. This month, with the state facing a projected $15 billion budget shortfall, the House’s first draft budget eliminated the program’s money. A Senate draft still includes funding.
New Jersey and Illinois also have statewide programs. Florida eliminated its small testing program in 2009. Many school districts also conducted testing.
Programs were often funded with state and federal grants. Now, as the money starts running out, so does the desire to keep testing. Depending on the complexity, steroid testing can easily exceed $100 per student.
“If schools had the budget to do it, they would,’’ Franz said. “The biggest thing Texas would be missing is the deterrent. And that’s too bad.’’
Supporters of steroid testing insist that the rarity of confirmed cases shows the program is working as a deterrent.
Eliminating the program would encourage steroid use, said Don Hooton of Frisco, who started a foundation after his 17-year-old son’s suicide in 2003 was linked to steroid use.