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Cameron Smith

Wither steroid testing? Texas close to killing state-wide program

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So much for establishing a long-lasting deterrent. Less than three years after the start of state-wide steroid testing in Texas, the acclaimed $6 million program that threatens to test any public school athlete in the state is on the chopping block, with many expecting it to be a casualty of the state's $15 billion budget shortfall.

According to the Associated Press, the current draft budget before the state's House of Representatives eliminates the program, while a draft budget in the state Senate maintains its funding. Most reportedly expect the House budget to prevail, eliminating a program that critics say became far too limited by budget cuts within a year of its inception.

In 2008, Texas followed the lead of New Jersey and Illinois in adopting a state-wide steroids testing program. The policy established strict punishment for positive tests, and made any athletes -- from freshman field hockey players to senior offensive linemen -- eligible for random testing.

Yet despite the program's clear mandate, only 24 confirmed cases of banned substance use were uncovered in the first year, leading politicians to green-light a budget cut to the program, limiting its funding to $2 million per year in 2009.

Now that $2 million is under dire attack, with some of the program's fiercest proponents talking in conciliatory tones, claiming that the program has provided a powerful deterrent that will continue even if the program does not.

Don Hooton, the founder of the Taylor Hooton Foundation and one of the nation's leading advocates for additional measures to control teen steroid use, said that logic is a drastic error, and could rapidly undermine any gains the program has made since 2008. Hooton's son Taylor, a Texas high school baseball player himself, committed suicide after serial steroid use.

"It's like a school district that has a serious gun violence problem and puts up metal detectors," Hooton told the AP. "When gun violence goes down, they say ‘Well, that's a waste of money, let's take the metal detectors away because we don't have a problem anymore.'"

Yet state Rep. Dan Flynn, a champion of the program when it began, said that the need for steroid funding can't stack up to other programs in line for budgetary cuts, including cuts for teachers, public health care programs and subsidized pre-kindergarten programs.

"What's more important?" Flynn told the AP. "We didn't catch a lot of kids, but we were hoping we wouldn't have to. I can't fight to get $1.8 million.

"We accomplished our goal, and that was to educate and create a deterrent."

Yet Hooton and others claim that Texas' actions will have implications that stretch far beyond the borders of the Lone Star State. With Texas' hard talk and high funding for its program, the early elimination of what was seen as an ideal testing model could set the stage for other states to back out of their pledges, or derail proposed future programs.

"There are eyes from all over the United States that are watching this program. It is the shining star, the most substantial effort and I'm very proud of it," Hooton told the AP. "If Texas kills this program, it will become an excuse for other states to never stick their toe in the water and make a run in this thing."

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