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Dangerous Use of Growth Hormone Surges Among U.S. Teens

Many young people are ordering dubious, hazardous products off of the Internet, researchers warn

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, July 23, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A growing number of U.S. teens are using synthetic human growth hormone (hGH) to boost their muscles and athletic ability, a new study finds.

The percentage of teens who admit to using hGH jumped to 11 percent in 2013 -- more than double the 5 percent figure in 2012, the new survey from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids revealed.

The worrisome trend highlights a need for tighter regulation and oversight of performance-enhancing substances and other "fitness" products, the group said.

"These new data point to a troubling development among today's teens," Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership said in a group news release. "Young people are seeking out and using performance-enhancing substances like synthetic hGH -- and supplements purporting to contain hGH -- hoping to improve athletic performance or body appearance without really knowing what substances they are putting into their bodies."

Another expert agreed the new data is troubling.

"The marked increase in teens' reported use of performance-enhancing substances such as steroids or synthetic growth hormones over just the last few years cries out for a massive public health campaign to educate them about the catastrophic -- and even fatal -- potential risks of misusing such products," said Dr. Patricia Vuguin, a pediatric endocrinologist at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

The body produces human growth hormone naturally, and experts have long known that the hormone is essential for growth and cell production in young people. It also helps regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth.

A synthetic form of this hormone, known as hGH, has been available since 1985, the Partnership noted. Congress has approved certain uses of synthetic hGH, such as for muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS, adult deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors and the long-term treatment of short stature in children.

Any off-label use of hGH for other medical conditions is strictly prohibited, however.

People hoping to boost their athletic abilities or enhance their appearance have abused synthetic growth hormone in the past. In order to track the use of hGH and other performance-enhancing substances, the researchers surveyed more than 3,700 high school students. They also questioned 750 parents during in-home interviews.

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