Survey finds sharp increase in teen use of HGH

July 23, 2014 by David Crary
In this April 27, 2014 photo provided by Donald Hooton Sr., Donald Hooton Jr. addresses players at the USA Football regional football camp about the potential dangers of using performance-enhancing substances at the Houston Sports Park in Houston. Experimentation with human growth hormones by America's teens more than doubled in the last year, according to a large-scale national survey. Hooton works for the Taylor Hooton Foundation, named after his brother, Taylor, a 17-year-old high school athlete whose suicide in 2003 was blamed by his family on abuse of steroids. (AP Photo/Donald Hooton Sr.)

(AP)—Experimentation with human growth hormones by America's teens more than doubled in the past year, as more young people looked to drugs to boost their athletic performance and improve their looks, according to a new, large-scale national survey.

In a confidential 2013 survey of 3,705 high school students, being released Wednesday by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 11 percent reported using synthetic HGH at least once—up from about 5 percent in the four preceding annual surveys. Teen use of steroids increased from 5 percent to 7 percent over the same period, the survey found.

Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, depicted the numbers as alarming but not surprising, given the extensive online marketing of performance-enhancing substances and near-total lack of any drug testing for high school athletes.

"It's what you get when you combine aggressive promotion from for-profit companies with a vulnerable target—kids who want a quick fix and don't care about health risk," Tygart said in an interview. "It's a very easy sell, unfortunately."

Nine percent of teen girls reported trying synthetic HGH and 12 percent of boys.

"A picture emerges of teens—both boys and girls—entering a largely unregulated marketplace (online and in-store) in which performance-enhancing substances of many varieties are aggressively promoted with promises of improved muscle mass, performance and appearance," said the report. "This is an area of apparently growing interest and potential danger to teens that cries out for stricter controls on manufacture and marketing."

Given the high cost of authentic HGH, it's possible that some of the teens who reported using it may in fact have obtained fake products. As the survey said, "It's very difficult to know what exactly is in the substances teens are consuming, or what the short and long-term impact on their health may be."

Steve Pasierb, president of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, said the motives of today's youthful dopers were different from the rebellious or escapist attitudes that traditionally accompanied teen drinking and pot-smoking.

"This is about how you feel, how you look," Pasierb said. "They're doing this thing to get ahead. ... Girls want to be thin and toned. For a lot of boys, it's about their six-pack."

He urged parents to talk candidly with their children about the dangers of performance-enhancing substances, but to avoid moralizing.

"It's not about illegality, or whether you're a good parent or bad parent," he said. "It's a health issue. These substances literally alter your body."

Pasierb said coaches have a key role in combatting doping. Some are vigilant, others oblivious and perhaps a third are prepared to tolerate doping in the interests of winning, he said.

The new survey noted that the upsurge in teen HGH use occurred even as famous athletes were caught up in high-profile doping cases. Last August, Major League Baseball punished Alex Rodriguez with a lengthy suspension after investigating his use of performance-enhancing drugs. A few months earlier, Lance Armstrong admitted in a TV interview to doping throughout his cycling career.

One of Armstrong's former teammates is Tyler Hamilton, who was forced to return his 2004 Olympic gold medal after being found guilty of doping. In recent public appearances, Hamilton has implored young athletes to resist the temptation to dope.

"There's so much pressure on winning—it's tough for these kids to stay true to themselves," he said. "I can't change every kid's mind, but if I can do my part and other people do their part, we can beat this monster."

Tygart, who as USADA's chief oversaw investigations of Armstrong and Hamilton, noted that stringent testing regimens are an increasingly effective deterrent to doping among athletes in major pro sports and in international competitions.

"But most young athletes are not in any testing program, and their chance of getting caught is zero," he said. "When left unchecked, the win-at-all-cost culture will take over and athletes will make the wrong decision."

Synthetic HGH is supposed to be available only by prescription, yet products claiming to contain HGH are widely promoted and enforcement of the regulations is inconsistent, Tygart said.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids survey also reported on other forms of substance abuse. Among its findings:

  • Forty-four percent of teens report using marijuana at least once within their lifetime; 24 percent report using within the past month; and 7 percent report using at least 20 times within the past month. These levels have remained stable over the past five years.
  • After a sharp increase in teen misuse and abuse of prescription drugs in 2012, the rate remained stable in 2013, with 23 percent of teens reporting such abuse or misuse at least once. Fifteen percent reported having used the prescription painkillers Vicodin or OxyContin without a prescription at some point.

The survey of 3,705 students in grades 9-12 was conducted at their schools between February and June of 2013.

The margin of error was calculated at plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.

Founded in 1987, the New York-based Partnership for Drug-Free Kids is a nonprofit working to reduce teen substance abuse and support families affected by addiction.

Explore further: Hispanic teens more likely to abuse drugs, survey finds

Related Stories

Hispanic teens more likely to abuse drugs, survey finds

August 20, 2013
(HealthDay)—Hispanic teens are more likely to abuse illegal and legal drugs than their black or white peers, a new report finds.

NIDA offers tools for talking to teens about marijuana

May 20, 2014
Two updated booklets about marijuana for teens and their parents will help families sort out marijuana myths from science-based facts. The revamped tools come from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the ...

Many sexually active US teens not tested for HIV, CDC reports

July 18, 2014
(HealthDay)—Only one in five sexually active U.S. teens has been tested for HIV, a new government report shows.

National study: Teen misuse and abuse of prescription drugs up 33 percent since 2008

April 23, 2013
New, nationally projectable survey results released today by The Partnership at Drugfree.org and MetLife Foundation confirmed that one in four teens has misused or abused a prescription (Rx) drug at least once in their lifetime ...

Many teens drinking, taking drugs during school: survey

August 22, 2012
(HealthDay) -- Ninety percent of American high school students report that some of their classmates are using illicit drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, during the school day, a new survey found.

Parental disapproval contributes to racial, ethnic differences in prescription drug misuse by teens

May 12, 2014
Parents' attitudes toward substance use may help to explain observed racial/ethnic variations in prescription drug misuse among teens, reports a study in the May Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official ...

Recommended for you

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Safety of medical devices not often evaluated by sex, age, or race

July 25, 2017
Researchers at Yale and the University of California-San Francisco have found that few medical devices are analyzed to consider the influence of their users' sex, age, or race on safety and effectiveness.

Why you should consider more than looks when choosing a fitness tracker

July 25, 2017
A UNSW study of five popular physical activity monitors, including Fitbit and Jawbone models, has found their accuracy differs with the speed of activity, and where they are worn.

Dog walking could be key to ensuring activity in later life

July 24, 2017
A new study has shown that regularly walking a dog boosts levels of physical activity in older people, especially during the winter.

Alcohol to claim 63,000 lives over next five years, experts warn

July 24, 2017
Alcohol consumption will cause 63,000 deaths in England over the next five years – the equivalent of 35 deaths a day – according to a new report from the University of Sheffield Alcohol Research Group.

Alcohol boosts recall of earlier learning

July 24, 2017
Drinking alcohol improves memory for information learned before the drinking episode began, new research suggests.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.