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Steroid use puts growing number of teenage athletes at risk

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WASHINGTON, July 13 (AFP) - Steroids, which have cast a shadow over some of the world's most celebrated athletes, are increasingly popular among adolescent amateur athletes, according to congressional testimony Tuesday.

"Despite the widely publicized dangers of anabolic steroid abuse, it's estimated that as many as five million people annually -- including 175,000 high school girls and 350,000 high-school age boys -- may be abusing these drugs to improve athletic performance, appearance and self-image," Senator Charles Grassley said.

"Those same studies have shown that some users start even younger, first using steroids while they are in middle school," said Grassley, who presided at the hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.

"Winning at all costs places too great of a cost on the health of our children and undermines the element of fairness we expect in any sporting competition," the Iowa Republican senator said at the outset of the hearing, which included testimony from former athletes and ex-steroid users.

A panel of experts testified that steroids are easily purchased over the Internet, making them more accessible than ever to students in high school, and even younger.

"The currently effectively unregulated availability of products containing steroid precursors in the United States is a health crisis that affects not just Olympic athletes, but every American teenager who dreams of becoming of professional or Olympic athlete -- and every consumer who takes one of these products without being informed of the risks," said Terry Madden, chief executive officer of the US Anti-Doping Agency.

Counterfeit steroids may pose an even greater hazard, according to experts who said that 95 percent of the steroids on the market are fakes, and many contain dangerous substances.

"Fake steroids have been known to have mixtures of cooking oil and even motor oil in them," Grassley said.

The testimony came as the United States is roiled by a doping scandal that has implicated some of the top names in athletics, baseball and other marquee sports, and threatens to tarnish the upcoming Olympic games.



COPYRIGHT 2004 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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