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July 13, 2004

The Abuse of Anabolic Steroids and Their Precursors by Adolescent and Amateur Athletes

Don Hooten
Son Committed Suicide After Using Steroids

Mr. Chairman, Senators.

On July 15th of this past year, just 1 year ago this week, our youngest son, Taylor, took his own life. Taylor has just turned 17 and was only 2 weeks away from beginning his senior year in High School. This spring, he would have been a starting pitcher on the varsity baseball team, his dream. He had made an excellent score on his SAT test, and he and I were preparing to begin making college visits. He was in love and was convinced that he had met the girl of his dreams he was already talking about marriage (as crazy as that sounds)! Taylor was well-liked by all who knew him adults tell us he was one of the most well-mannered young men that they ever met he was always smiling! His friends tell us that he was one of the nicest kids on campus, a ladies man that was a real charmer. Over 3,000 people attended Taylor's funeral.

Nearly everyone that has visited with us since this tragic event has commented that if they had been asked to predict which of the kids at Plano West HS would have been prone to commit such a tragic act, all said that Taylor would have been at the very bottom of their list. So why would such a nice young man with his whole life in front of him take such an irrational step? I am convinced that anabolic steroids played a significant role in causing the severe depression that resulted in his suicide. Yes, steroids a drug that I have learned can be just as lethal as any of the other "classical" drugs that we've heard so much about heroin, cocaine, and others. And, we have learned that what happened to Taylor the events leading up to and including his suicide are right out of the "textbook" on steroids.

Taylor was a pitcher. During the fall of his junior year, his JV coach told this 6'3" 175 pound young man that he needed to get "bigger" in order to improve his chances of making the varsity team. Senators, I've been around baseball all my life, and I still haven't figured out why he needed to be any "bigger" in order to throw a baseball. But, whether or not the coach was correct, he never backed up his directive any instructions on what kind of diet or exercise program that he should follow to meet his goal.

Taylor took the coach's advice seriously, and somewhere along the line, he made the decision to use anabolic steroids as a short-cut to help him reach his objective. Over the next four months, Taylor did "get bigger." He put on about 30 pounds and developed a number of the classical physical side effects of steroid use. Moreover, his whole personality changed. He went through serious mood swings ranging from periods of extreme anger - to periods of depression.

I didn't know that much about steroids until after Taylor's death. But, I have done a lot of reading in the meantime and have had the opportunity to speak with a number of the world's experts on this subject, experts like Dr. Wadler from NYU and Dr. Pope from Harvard. In addition, several large news organizations (including the NY Times, CBS 60 Minutes and 48 Hours, Fox News Network, and others) have turned over every stone that they could in an effort to understand what happened here. And, through their work, we have had multiple experts confirm that anabolic steroids are very capable of causing the kind of depression that Taylor experienced, severe enough to result in suicide.

The reason that I am here today to share with you a little of what I've learned about steroids so that you will be able to benefit from our experience. I am absolutely committed to seeing that Taylor's death will not go in vain.

There are numerous types of anabolic steroids and each and every one of them requires a prescription.

How do kids take these steroids? Some take them orally or they can be rubbed on the skin. Taylor, like many kids, was using needles to inject steroids into his body. I want you to imagine for a moment how horrifying it was to go through his room after the funeral and find his stash of vials, needles and syringes.

Who uses steroids? Many studies have been done, and most of the experts that I've spoken with put the usage rate at about 4-5% of the total US High School population. Several studies have put the use of steroids at about 11% of the male population in some parts of the country especially in the South where I come from. These numbers really begin to take on more significance if we assume that most of the steroid abusers are involved in athletics a subset of the overall student population. The kids tell me that between one third and one half of the players on some of our local Plano football teams are "juicing"!

Where do kids obtain their steroids? Steroids are sold by drug pushers at most local gyms yes, at almost any gym right in your home town where the big guys work out. Many of the steroids in our part of the country are purchased in Mexico where no prescription is required and then brought across the border. Or, as we will see, they can be easily purchased over the Internet.

Let's not kid ourselves our kids use steroids because they work well. They help the boys bulk up and give them the feeling that they are better in their particular sport than those players that are not taking steroids. And, once some of their teammates start using steroids, other members of the team feel the need to use the drug in order to remain competitive.

There are a whole list of longer-term physical side affects of steroid use which we could discuss in short, there are virtually no organs in the body that are not negatively impacted by steroids. But, there is also another list, a list of more immediate psychiatric dangers. I want to go over them briefly, because of our experience with Taylor.

Even though athletes think that they are feeling better, most experience wide mood swings ranging from periods of violent, even homicidal episodes known as "ROID rages." In addition to these rages, users can suffer from
paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and Impaired judgment resulting from feelings of invincibility.

In addition to the "hypomanic" symptoms that can occur during steroid exposure, there can be equally dangerous depressive symptoms from steroid withdrawal. Even when the user stops using the drugs, severe bouts of depression can result. According to the DEA, that the depression that follows steroid use is so severe that it can lead to suicide attempts and that these affects can last for a year or more after the abuser stops taking the drugs.

You will be interested to know that Taylor told us, his doctor, and his closest confidants that he had stopped taking steroids about 2 months before he hung himself.

Now, let me tell you a little bit about what the steroid industry is doing to market their wares to our kids!

A quick search for "steroids" using the Yahoo search engine yielded over 2 million sites where information, accurate and inaccurate, can be found. When I put the words "Mexican, pharmacy and steroids" into the Google engine, over 150,000 sites popped up! Senators, all our kids need is a credit card number or a money order and they can have hard core prescription anabolic steroids delivered right to their doorstep!

Take a look for yourselves when you get back to your office. I was shocked to learn how easy it is for our kids to purchase this stuff I am certain that you will be too!

Now, what can we do about it?

I will divide my recommendations on this subject into two categories what you can do as government officials and what we can do as citizens.

As public officials, I encourage you to take steps to insure that better testing and education is made available.

I believe testing is a crucial way of controlling the abuse of steroids among athletes it is the only way to know for sure whether these athletes are using these drugs.

But, our local public officials have come up with a multitude of excuses for not adopting such a policy in our schools. They begin by burying their head in the sand and denying that there is a steroid problem in "our" high schools all the while claiming that this is society's problem to deal with, not theirs. Some have expressed concern about the possible legal ramifications of such an approach, even though the Supreme Court has already affirmed the legality of drug testing.

Some say that testing costs too much somewhere between $60 and $200. Costs too much? I for one would rather see whatever money is required to be spent to protect our children from this deadly drug. The good news is that there are ways of managing these costs. Let's put testing on the list of funding priorities that we have for our schools and stack it up against the need for new athletic facilities and other programs. I think our kids' lives are worth it, and I hope you do too.

I strongly believe that the best weapon that we have in this fight is education, because prevention is the best approach to reducing the demand for anabolic steroids.

Current users, coaches, and parents need to know about the hazards of its use. Our students need to understand that they are not "bullet proof" and that these drugs can seriously harm them. But, warning a 16-year-old about the dangers of having a heart attack, developing liver problems or other maladies when he turns 35 or 40 will most likely fall on deaf ears.

That's why I believe that coaches are the most important first targets for this education, because they are the key to solving this problem. Why? Because they are the ones positioned to reward kids that take steroids they make the decision as to who makes the team or not, who makes the starting line up or sits the bench.

We must take steps to make coaches more responsible & accountable for supervising this situation with their teams. I feel strongly that we need coaches that are:
a) Formally trained to recognize the symptoms of steroid abuse,
B) Trained to know what to do about it, and
C) Held accountable for insuring that their teams are steroid-free.

Furthermore, I feel that our coaches need to be certified to have to pass a minimum threshold of training and testing before they are turned loose to supervise our kids. Today's group of HS coaches receive NO TRAINING on the subject of steroids and are (in my experience) disavowing any responsibility for challenging their athletes on this problem. Our coaches must talk openly and actively with their teams about this topic as a matter of policy. And, we must insist that they enforce a ZERO TOLERANCE policy against steroid abuse get caught using steroids and the student is put into a formal rehabilitation program!

Yes Senators, a coach may lose his #1 pitcher or star quarterback for the season, but I am convinced that this drug abuse won't stop until our athletes are convinced that there are real consequences to this drug abuse. With the strong peer pressure to use steroids combined with the "wonderful" example being set by our professional athletes, I am certain that a slap on the wrist just isn't enough to curb this rampant abuse.

To help fill this education void, we have just formed a non-profit foundation The Taylor Hooton Foundation for Fighting Steroid Abuse. As far as we know, we are the only private group in existence that is organizing to help fight this battle. We have opened a web site, and have begun a fund raising campaign targeted at raising $5 million this year for this national education effort.

There are other things that you can do such as strengthening the penalties for distribution and possession of this drug. But we can talk about those ideas and others in the Q&A period. Creative legislation is needed NOW. Doing nothing will insure that steroid use will grow - - - - the demand for steroids continues to grow and has not been deterred by recent events. Coaches continue to look the other way for whatever reason, and parents continue to push their kids to get that scholarship. Knowingly or unknowingly, our kids continue to be pressured into using steroids.

Let me close by telling you how much I appreciate your taking the time to listen to this message today. And, my sincere prayer is that some of the knowledge that I shared with you in this message will help you to better understand how you can help some boys or girls avoid the terrible fate that was Taylor's.