AUSTIN - Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday called for mandatory random testing of Texas public high school athletes for performance-enhancing drugs.
Dewhurst, a Republican running for re-election next month, said the tests would be a strong deterrent to steer young athletes away from illegal steroids and other performance boosters.
"It's a problem," said Dewhurst, who will ask state lawmakers to approve and pay for his plan next year. "I want to knock it out."
As many as 1 million high school students nationwide have tried steroids, according to a 2003 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey.
Dewhurst was joined by Don Hooton, a Plano father whose son was a promising baseball player who killed himself in 2003 at age 17 after using steroids to become a bigger and better pitcher. His parents and doctors believe he plunged into a deep depression after using the muscle-building drugs.
Hooton, who has testified on the issue before Congress, said testing probably would scare some athletes away from the drugs and help the families of users who get caught.
Dewhurst offered few details of his plan but said he would work with the University Interscholastic League, the state's governing body for public high school sports, to determine when students would be tested and the consequences for a positive test.
He said the UIL should also study whether middle school students should also be tested.
Steroids can lead to dramatic mood swings, heart disease and cancer, among other complications.
Dr. Richard Auchus, associate professor of internal medicine and endocrinology at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a consultant for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said his greatest concern about steroid use in young athletes is the potential for mental side effects.
"People can become psychotic and depressive," Auchus said. "To me, that's the most dangerous thing about these."
In 2005, state lawmakers considered a testing program but instead directed the UIL to develop an education plan about the dangers of steroid use.
The UIL is surveying school districts to gauge how well that program is working. The results are due in December.
"We believe students are learning to make better decisions," to avoid steroids, said Charles Breithaupt, UIL athletic director.
"If the Legislature chooses to have us test, we certainly will do what they ask us to do," he said.
Any testing program must consider when to test, how often to test students participating in multiple sports and how many students to test, among other issues, Breithaupt said.
According to the UIL, 733,026 students participated in UIL sports in the 2005-06 school year.
School districts balked at the cost of testing in 2005.
Dewhurst estimated each test would cost about $100. At that rate, 30,000 tests, about 4 percent of the athletes statewide, would cost $2 million.
"I don't want to hear any talk about that being expensive," Dewhurst said. "You can't put a price tag on a young person's life."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that random drug testing is legal. Most Texas school districts haven't implemented such programs, but dozens have, either with federal grant money or on their own.
This fall, New Jersey became the first state to institute a statewide testing policy for high school athletes. But that program tests only those athletes who quality for team or individual state championships.
Dewhurst said he envisions a much broader program in Texas.
"I hope his plan to curb steroid use in Texas will become a model for this nation," Hooton said.