Girls and Steroids: Anything to Be Thin

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Dionne Passacantando desperately wanted to be thin.

In 2003, Passacantando was a petite and popular high school student in Allen, Texas. But the 17-year-old cheerleader and senior class vice president said she felt pressured to slim down, to have that "Shape magazine, six-pack" look.

So, she took what seemed to be an easy route to a better body: she began using anabolic steroids. "It seemed like the ultimate answer," she said, adding that the drugs — bought, she said, through a friend on the school football team — were "ridiculously easy to find."

But within five weeks, she'd gained around 8 pounds, and her voice deepened. She felt "out of control," mired in depression, with thoughts of suicide.

"It definitely made me feel alone," she said of the drugs. "It pushed me to a state of depression that harming myself was definitely not out of the question."

Watch Dionne's story today on "Good Morning America."

Passacantando is not alone. Illegal steroids are mostly used by men in their late teens and 20s, and the extent of steroid abuse among teenage girls is not clear. But, stories such as Passacantando's, and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicate that performance-enhancing drugs have crept into the nation's high schools — where they are being used by both boys and girls.

Former Sen. George Mitchell, in his report on steroid use in Major League Baseball, warned that hundreds of thousands of high schoolers are illegally using performance-enhancing drugs. "Every American, not just baseball fans, ought to be shocked into action by that disturbing truth," the report said

And it's not just boys that are abusing the drugs. An Oregon Health and Science University report, based on data collected in 2003 by the CDC, found that about 5.3 percent of high school-age girls admitted to using steroids. By 2005, that number dropped to 3.2 percent, according to the CDC.

Unlike most men, who tend to take steroids to improve their physical performance, Passacantando chose to use the drugs as a "vanity kind of thing," driven by her desire to slim down to a size zero. She'd skipped meals or forced herself to throw up, in the past, and had heard that steroids, which increase muscle mass and decrease body fat, would help tone her body.

Passacantando said that steroids were not uncommon at her high school, among athletes and others. She told ABC News that she asked a player to help her get the drugs.

Forty-eight hours and $250 later, she had the steroids in her hands, she said.

It was easy to conceal from her family, she said. She locked herself in the bathroom every other day and injected herself in the buttocks. Within an hour, she said, she felt a "jolt," a burst of energy.

But, she soon learned the drugs had a dark side. Steroids can cause side effects, including facial hair growth and hair loss in teenage girls. The drugs can also stunt a person's growth, and have been associated with liver problems and cardiovascular disease, said Dr. Linn Goldberg, head of health promotion and sports medicine at Oregon Health and Science, and one of the authors of the university's report on steroid use among teenage girls.

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