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Jordan District may test for drugs

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High school athletes in Jordan District could be put to tests beyond strength and agility.

They just might be tested for drug use, from cocaine to steroids.

The Jordan Board of Education, worried about the spread of performance-enhancing drugs among teens, is examining whether to randomly drug-test athletes — or any other student participating in activities from drill team to debate as sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association.

Tuesday's discussion, held in a study session, was the first in the matter. No decisions have been made, nor will they be for some time.

Jordan wouldn't be the first to randomly test athletes for drugs. Murray High does it. But the state's largest school district might end up being Utah's first to screen for steroid use.

"We (would not be) there to say, 'I gotcha,' " board president Ralph Haws said. "We're there to focus on health risks."

Efforts to halt drug use among teens, from the "Just Say No" campaign to law enforcement's DARE program, have found their way to the public school system.

But only recently have muscle-building drugs been injected into the mix.

A 2000 national study of teen drug use found 2.5 percent of high school seniors reported taking steroids at least once. The number of sophomores saying the same jumped from 1.7 percent in 1992 to 3.5 percent in 2000, the "Monitoring the Future" survey found.

That same year, Salt Lake City scrapped police support for the DARE program, which schools in that district replaced with Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids, or ATLAS.

Last spring, three Davis School District students were arrested and accused of going to Mexico to buy steroids and other drugs, with a street value of $15,000, to sell back home.

Steroids might promise teens rippling muscles, strength and speed, but the downside can be traumatic.

Anabolic steroid abuse can stunt bone growth and cause liver tumors and infertility, the national Institute on Drug Abuse reports. In males, anabolic steroids can cause impotence and breast enlargement. Females might develop deep voices and profuse body hair.

Testicular cancer also has been spotted among young users, said Susan Chilton, coordinator of programs for at-risk students for Jordan School District.

Random drug testing could deter drug use and reduce availability of drugs on campus, Chilton said. Parents would be told if their child was selected for testing, and be informed of results. Those whose children are found to be using drugs would receive district help on what to do next.

But such a plan faces obstacles.

Parents might sue. Though the U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld school drug testing even for students involved in activities such as choir, fighting lawsuits is taxing.

The program also would cost more than $86,000 a year, a pretty penny during tough economic times.

The board wants to take its time on the issue.

It wants to brush up on research, including an Oregon high school study that shows students were four times less likely to use drugs if subjected to random testing.

It will examine the law and see whether it might target students in all activities or just sports.

It wants to look at its budget, and whether it might boost activity fees by around $7 if all activities are included, to fund the tests.

It also expects to hear from parents.

E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com