The public commonly associates steroid use with big-time athletics. But the drugs may be even more of a menace to teen-agers. Here's why:
* The synthetic hormones can stunt a young person's growth by prematurely closing the ends of the long bones in the skeleton. This means that a 5-foot-7, 15-year-old high school freshman who uses steroids "might get bigger but won't get any taller," says a local physician.
* Nationally, nearly 7 percent of all boys try steroids before the end of high school, according to a 1988 study by professors Charles Yesalis and William Buckley of Penn State University. The estimate comes from a poll of 3,400 seniors in 46 public and private schools across the country.
Abusers of steroids do it to improve their appearance or to excel at sports, says Yesalis. "Parents, teachers and coaches [make boys believe] that to be an ideal male you need to have these muscles. Then they say: You can't play games to have fun; you play games to win."
* Such attitudes put many high school athletes at high risk of becoming abusers of steroids, says Mike Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse. "For these athletes, the pressure to perform is incredible," he says. "It was inevitable that it would seep down to the high school level."
* Parents and coaches must not close their eyes to the fact of steroid abuse, says Ron Shultz, athletic director at Dundalk High School. "This is a very real problem at the high school level," says Shultz, the driving force behind the Straight Talk on Steroids program put on at some county high schools.
"Youngsters are looking at steroids to get bigger and stronger," Shultz says. "You can bring a heroin addict in, and he'll drop dead right in front of them, and they won't do [heroin]. But steroids don't work like that, right away.
"When I have individuals with nationally known gym syndicates say, 'We've got a problem,' then I know we've got a problem. The college coach isn't going to do anything. That is why I got involved with it. Someone has to stand up and say that this is wrong."