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Gov't Set to Step In on Pro Drug Testing

Lawmakers Threatening to Clamp Down on Anabolic Steroids
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July 7, 2005 -- Professional sports leagues could soon face a new federal law clamping down on anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs used by athletes.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic male sex hormones. They can be prescribed by doctors to treat conditions resulting from low testosterone. Steroid supplements such as DHEA and androstenedione (known as Andro) can be purchased legally without a prescription.

Motivation to abuse these drugs is often driven by the desire to build muscle and improve sports performance, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Congress is considering several proposals to set a single standard on drug testing and penalties for athletes in major professional leagues, including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association. The moves come after widespread criticism this spring from lawmakers over what many saw as professional sport's unwillingness to crack down on steroid abuse among athletes.

Some lawmakers and experts have called for a strict testing and penalty regimen similar to the one used by Olympic authorities. Many blame steroid-using sports professionals for setting a tone that glorifies use by American adolescents. Anabolic steroid abuse is increasing among adolescents, writes the NIDA, most rapidly among girls.

"We've got to cut this off at the head. It doesn't trickle down to our kids, it cascades down," Charles Yesalis, PhD, a steroid researcher from Pennsylvania State University, tells WebMD.

There are many health consequences associated with steroid abuse. In males, decreased sperm count, impotency, and breast enlargement can result from abuse of the drug. In females, the development of male characteristics can occur such as excess body hair and deepening of the voice. Liver abnormalities and cancer, abnormal blood cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure can also be seen when these drugs are abused.

In 2004, 3.4% of high school seniors reported in federal surveys having used steroids at some point in their lives, though some other estimates are higher.

But several sports leagues are resisting lawmakers' attempts to regulate drug testing, and it remains unclear how far Congress will go to enact tough standards.

One bill circulating on Capitol Hill would put the federal government in charge of policing drug testing in pro leagues. Athletes would face a two-year suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second. Leagues would also face still fines for failing to comply with testing rules.

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