Successful Drug Prevention Study Reduces Anabolic Steroid Use Among High School Athletes

November 19, 1996

Contact: Julie Remington 503 494-8231

Portland, Ore.--Scientists at Oregon Health Sciences University have designed a successful drug prevention program to help high school athletes resist the temptation to take anabolic steroids. Their findings appear in the Nov. 20, 1996 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and detail an effective educational project known as the ATLAS (adolescents training and learning to avoid steroids) program.

Anabolic steroids are used to enhance muscle growth, increase strength and improve athletic performance. However, severe adverse physical and emotional consequences of anabolic steroid use are well documented and include heightened risks for heart disease, abnormal liver function, stunted height, abnormally large mammary glands in the male, and severe mood and psychotic disorders. Despite these harmful side effects and the possibility of spreading AIDS by needle sharing, an estimated 1 million US athletes have used these drugs. By 1990 an estimated 250,000 adolescents were estimated to have used anabolic steroids with the greatest concentration among high school football players.

The year-long study was led by Linn Goldberg, M.D., of Oregon Health Sciences University and involved 31 high school football teams in Oregon and Washington.

A control group of 804 high school football players received no intervention to prevent the use of anabolic steroids, while 700 high school students received the ATLAS prevention program. The ATLAS program consists of seven, 50-minute educational sessions delivered by coaches and student team leaders. The sessions address the potential risks and benefits of anabolic steroids, as well as proper sports nutrition and effective methods of strength training. These educational sessions also included role-playing aimed at resisting peer pressure to take drugs. In addition, seven weight-room sessions were taught by OHSU researchers. Parents received written information and were invited to a discussion session.

Compared to the control group, the athletes receiving the prevention program displayed increased understanding of the effects of anabolic steroids and greater belief in personal vulnerability to the adverse effects. This information was obtained through questionnaires administered to the athletes immediately before and after the study and again one year later. The athletes receiving the ATLAS program also showed improved perception of their own ability to build strength without anabolic steroids and reduced intention to use these drugs. These athletes also showed improved nutrition, self confidence and exercise behaviors.

The ATLAS program is unique because it uses the team setting for instruction where peers share common goals and coaches have a high degree of contact time and influence. It is the first federally funded study to provide young athletes with a drug prevention program that targets performance enhancing drugs. The ATLAS program is funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and will continue until 1998.

Oregon Health & Science University

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