Md. drug tests called unlikely

Grasmick helps launch effort to educate students, coaches, parents about steroids

February 27, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

The state's top school official acknowledged that even though a public awareness campaign designed to discourage teenagers from using steroids and other performance-enhancing substances is a good step, it's not the first step toward drug testing of athletes in schools.

"I don't see that," said State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, who helped launch the "Powered by ME!" initiative at Towson High School yesterday.

"I don't think it's a reality at this point in time," she said. "We have very strict drug, alcohol and weapons codes of conduct, and students know that. And actually, we're seeing some diminished use [of drugs] in school. ... It's just not something that we've seen the need to pursue."

Grasmick spoke after attending a news conference beginning the campaign, which is aimed at educating students, parents, coaches and teachers about the dangers associated with abusing steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

Led by St. Joseph Medical Center in Baltimore and funded by several entities, including the Maryland State Department of Education, Towson Sports Medicine and Sheppard Pratt Health System, the program features an educational Web site (www.PoweredByMeMD.com), a telephone informational line (410-337-1337), speakers bureaus and conference presentations.

Grasmick said the initiative - which will begin by focusing on Baltimore City and Baltimore County - would be integrated into the state's middle school curriculum and be part of the voluntary curriculum at the high school level.

But Grasmick and other school officials said drug testing is not on the horizon.

Currently, New Jersey is the only state in the country that tests high school athletes for steroids.

Florida, Texas, Illinois and Connecticut may follow suit, but some individual schools in Texas have already been testing athletes. Players, coaches and parents in California are required to sign contracts promising that the athletes will refrain from using steroids.

But even the model in New Jersey is restricted to randomly testing those athletes whose teams qualify for their respective championships. It was reported earlier this month that all 150 athletes who underwent the process tested negative for steroids.

Ned Sparks, executive director of the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, said state officials were not eager to implement a similar system here.

"When you get into drug testing, you've got so many other issues that are involved in that," he said. "Issues regarding the cost, collecting of the samples, securing the samples, the privacy of minors. All of those things start coming out, and ... getting through all of those issues doesn't, quite frankly, make the juice worth the squeeze."

Bob Wade, the coordinator of athletics in Baltimore City, agreed, adding that steroids remain low on the list of concerns compiled by his staff and coaches.

"Kids will drink beer. Kids will smoke marijuana. I think that is a major concern with our coaching staffs," Wade said. "But [with] steroids, our coaches talk to them just like every other coach talks to their kids and the reports given to me, it's not a big issue in our school system."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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