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Steroids in the schools

In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a law requiring high school athletes be randomly tested for steroids. Turns out this isn’t much of a problem.

Only two athletes tested positive for steroid use among some 10,000 Texas high school students tested this spring, raising doubts about whether state lawmakers will renew the $3 million-a-year project at current levels.

The testing company’s preliminary results are based on an estimated 10,407 students who were tested since February, when state officials launched the random steroid-testing program mandated by state lawmakers. National Center for Drug Free Sport is expected to release a formal report later this summer.

Both supporters and critics of the testing program — the largest among high schools in the country — said the results validate their positions.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Monday he was pleased with the cursory results.

“I pushed this important legislation through the Legislature because I knew it would deter our young people from wrecking their bodies and putting their lives at risk by using illegal steroids,” Dewhurst said. “And these test results clearly show the deterrent is working because young people know they can’t use illegal steroids without getting caught.”

But Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, one of seven state lawmakers to vote against the steroid-testing program, wants it abolished. There are 181 members in the Texas Legislature.

“This is one of those issues that sounds good but has no real impact except wasting taxpayer dollars,” Patrick said. “I don’t want to diminish the seriousness of steroids, but you can’t take a sledgehammer to kill a gnat. Spending $1.5 million per kid is ludicrous.”

I agree with Sen. Patrick. There’s no possible way that this is a responsible use of public resources. I didn’t pay attention to this issue last session, as there were so many other higher-priority matters, but I’ll be watching it this time. Anyone who wants to argue in favor of renewing this program in 2009 is going to have to explain how it could be worth the cost.

As for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst’s blithe assertion that the random tests must have served as a deterrent, how do we know anyone was using before this year? Maybe this was never a problem all along. And you have to admire Dewhurst’s logic, which no doubt would have applied regardless of the outcome. If we have no steroid problem, the testing program works because it’s a deterrent. If we did have a steroid problem, the testing program works because clearly we needed to know what kind of a problem we have. Nifty, isn’t it?

Almost as nifty as this:

[Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, House sponsor for the steroid legislation,] did not flinch at the $1.5 million cost per positive test result, noting the price tag would be immaterial “if that’s your kid.”

And if we’d passed a $3 million bill to help kids pass the TAKS test but only 2 of the 10,000 kids it applied to did actually pass it, would it still be worth the $1.5 million cost per positive test result “if that’s your kid”? I’m thinking the answer Rep. Flynn would give in that case would be “no”.

State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, agreed that schools should ramp up educational warnings about steroid use. But she voted against the testing program last year and hopes it fizzles out in the next legislative session.

“I thought the whole concept was absolutely silly,” she said. “We should focus on education … The money needs to be better utilized in preparing our kids for Texas’ global economy.”

Somebody slap me, I’m agreeing with Dan Patrick and Debbie Riddle in the same blog post. I realize she’s being completely insincere about the need to “focus on education”, but I’m going to clip and save this quote for next year anyway, because I’m sure it’ll come in handy at some point. Grits has more.

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