Don't Go Down That 'Roid Road


March 19, 2005 — -- On the street it's called "juicing," and what they "juice" are " ' roids," "stackers," "gym candy" or "pumpers." People use them so they can dominate a sport. Some guys use them because they want to have the kind of muscular build women swoon over.

You know what we're talking about. Steroids. The sports world's once dirty little secret that has now broken wide open.

The scientific name is anabolic (muscle building) androgenic (increased masculine characteristics) steroids. These substances don't occur naturally. They are manmade and related to the male hormone testosterone. They can be injected or taken orally or rubbed on as a cream. We're talking about the stuff that makes a man or woman bigger, stronger and more aggressive.

Steroids are legally prescribed for the medical treatment of AIDS patients whose bodies are wasting away and victims of other diseases that cause the loss of lean muscle tissue. But when athletes and young aspiring athletes find out what steroids can do for their performance on a field, they take the drugs illegally and abusively.

The pressure to "juice" in the sports world is enormous. In baseball, it could mean hitting 40 home runs a season instead of 25, which in turn could mean a $25 million contract instead of a $10 million one.

So what's the problem?

Steroids are illegal and can be hazardous to your health. A recent ABC News/ESPN poll found that more than eight in 10 Americans are worried that the use of steroids by sports stars encourages young people to try to emulate their heroes by taking steroids themselves. The public places much of the blame on baseball. Six in 10 Americans say major league baseball hasn't done enough to prevent the use of the drugs by their players. That's why Congress held hearings into the problem.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that as many as 12 percent of male high school athletes used steroids by their senior year. They want the power, the bodies and the fame with little regard to anything else, including their health.

But studies show that anabolic-androgenic steroids can be more dangerous for young people because they can stop kids' growth. In girls, steroids can cause permanent changes to their voices and genitals.

After stopping the drugs, young people can go into a deep depression. Recently, two teenage athletes committed suicide, reportedly after stopping steroid use. That's the extreme. Other youngsters may take other illegal drugs, like heroin or Ecstasy, to counter the bad feelings they have from steroid use.

Let's talk about the potential side effects:

That should be enough to give you pause about starting down the steroid road.

There's another important issue at stake. How can you admire athletes who take unfair advantage of competitors because they are on performance-enhancing drugs? It's unnatural. "Juiced-up" athletes set records, but should society place high value on that? Should they share spots in Halls of Fame with players of old who simply worked hard on perfecting their talents?

The International Olympic Committee has done a great deal to find the cheaters and have made them pay the price. It can be done.

When will Major League Baseball, which years ago earned the iconic status as "America's national pastime," do the same?

Back to steroids and young people: Doctors say if you haven't started taking them, don't. And if you have, stop. It's your health.

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