Performance-enhancing drugs in high school sports: Not just an Olympic concern

There is often a heightened awareness and concern about performance-enhancing drug use during the Olympics, and this summer’s London Olympics are no different. Athletes are tested before the Olympics, randomly throughout the games, and after they compete to determine if they’ve used illegal performance-enhancing drugs to gain an unfair advantage. But performance-enhancing drugs aren’t just a concern on the world’s biggest athletic stage; they are an important issue even for high school athletes.

We asked parents of high school athletes about performance-enhancing drug use in high school sports and what they think about school policies surrounding performance-enhancing drugs. Nearly 1 in 10 parents reported that they know someone under 18 who has tried performance-enhancing drugs. Three-quarters of the parents surveyed were in favor of random drug testing in high school and thought schools should be required to report the number and percentage of positive tests to the state.

Although many parents were in favor of drug testing policies in high school, they did not broadly support of penalties for high school athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Only a third of parents supported policies that would ban an athlete from all sports for a year after a positive performance-enhancing drug test and only 19% supported an athlete forfeiting team wins or awards. Many parents (89%) did support providing counseling and treatment, however.

Although performance-enhancing drugs are more often in the spotlight for professional sports and large events like the Olympics, the results of the National Poll on Children’s Health show that they are also a serious concern for high school athletes. Parents are in favor of testing, but prefer counseling and treatment to participation bans for athletes who test positive.