Drug Abuse Stars

October 4, 2005

Taylor Hooton had it all. A solid high school student, popular, a star baseball pitcher in Plano, TX. But at 16 years old and 6'3", he wasn't big enough to be a varsity star. Or so his JV coach warned, telling Taylor that if he wanted to make the cut, he had to get bigger.

Taylor Hooton had it all. A solid high school student, popular, a star baseball pitcher in Plano, TX. But at 16 years old and 6'3", he wasn't big enough to be a varsity star. Or so his JV coach warned, telling Taylor that if he wanted to make the cut, he had to get bigger.

"Taylor took those instructions very seriously," said Taylor's father, Don Hooton. "He made the decision to use anabolic steroids to get bigger.

"Twenty-six months ago, my son took his own life," Hooton told the American Academy of Family Physicians Scientific Assembly. "Taylor's use of steroids play a significant role in the events that led to his suicide. Those events were straight out of the medical textbook."

The teen did, indeed, get bigger. He put on 30 pounds in four months. As he added muscle, he also added aggression, mood swings, and a new set of friends. He bought steroids from a contact at a local gym, taking more than 50 mg daily.

"Steroids are available at every gym in America," Hooton said. "If that's too much trouble, they are available over the internet."

Taylor's parents knew something was changing their son, but they had no idea it was anabolic steroids. Neither did their family physician, who saw Taylor twice. Thy physician even tried a drug test, which came up negative because he did not realize that steroids require lab work beyond the standard panel.

When a psychiatrist finally learned the truth, he advised Taylor to stop cold. He followed those instructions, too, falling into a deep depression that led to suicide.

Taylor's steroid abuse is no surprise, warned Suraj Achar, MD, assistant clinical professor and education director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship at the University of California San Diego. Between 5% and 6% of high school students have at least tried anabolic steroids. In 2001, 4% of high school students reported using anabolic steroids on a regular basis.

"That figure is after parents gave consent for the survey," Dr. Achar cautioned. "The actual rate may be considerably higher."

Depression leading to suicide is a textbook symptom of anabolic steroid abuse, Dr. Achar said. So are significant weight gain, bone growth, mood swings, rage, and other psychological symptoms.

Student athletes, like many of their professional role models, want the increase in bone growth and muscle mass that are typical of high-dose anabolic steroid use. Athletes are willing to accept the psychosocial toll of steroid use.

Most do not realize that steroids also increase the size of the heart, liver, and kidney and reduce sperm count. Mortality is significantly higher among steroid users, not only from suicide, but also from heart diseases and cancers of both liver and kidney.

Those who know the potential for increased morbidity and mortality seem willing to accept the trade off.

In a 1998 poll of US Olympic athletes, Dr. Achar reported, 98% said they would be willing to use steroids if drug use meant they would win their event and they could be assured of not being discovered. When the poll added one further condition, the certainty of death within five years, half of the athletes still said they would choose steroids.

"The pressure is on," he said.