Jan. 15, 2008 -- With the sharp new focus on steroid use among Major League baseball players, it appears a new drug threat may be worsening in sports, lawmakers and others said in congressional hearings Tuesday.
Lawmakers warned that use of human growth hormone -- which is undetectable using standard urine tests -- is still on the rise in the Major Leagues. George Mitchell, the former senator who issued last month's report accusing more than 90 players of using drugs, says tough new rules should be implemented in baseball to keep human growth hormones out.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told lawmakers Tuesday that testing indicates that steroid use is "way down" among professional players. But the recent Mitchell report also concluded that use of human growth hormone (HGH) is a new drug of choice.
"The illegal use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs was pervasive for more than a decade; Major League Baseball was slow and ineffective in responding to the scandal. And the use of human growth hormone has been rising," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Investigations and Oversight Committee.
"The Mitchell Report also makes it clear that everyone in baseball is responsible: the owners, the commissioner, the union, and the players," Waxman said.
Human growth hormone can increase height and muscle mass, and some players have said they used HGH to aide injury healing.
After Mitchell's report was released last month, Houston Astros pitcher Andy Pettite acknowledged he had used HGH while he was a member of the New York Yankees.
The panel is holding a new round of hearings in the wake of the Mitchell report. In addition to accusing the players of steroid and human growth hormone abuse, it makes 20 recommendations on how Major League Baseball should crack down on drug use.
New Testing Regime
Major League Baseball and its Players Union agreed last year to new drug testing standards. Players can be randomly tested and can be banned for life if they test positive three times for steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs.
Mitchell's recommendations also call for a new investigative wing at Major League Baseball to probe allegations of drug use. The reason, Mitchell says, is that some popular new drugs may not be picked up by random drug tests.
"Some illegal substances are difficult or even impossible to detect," he told the committee.
The new drug-testing regime was laid out in the players' recent collective bargaining agreement with Major League owners. The agreement is good until 2011, and current drug testing rules are unlikely to change before then.
But at least one lawmaker urged the league representatives to collect blood samples from players so that the sampled can be tested when a commercially-available HGH test comes on the market.
"Test for it now," said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D), a committee member from Massachusetts.
Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis, the committee's ranking member, urged the players union and Major League Baseball to embark on a large public education campaign about the dangers of performance-enhancing drug use.
"The health of young athletes across the country is at stake," Davis said.