As the limelight falls again on the use of performance enhancing drugs by professional athletes because of the perjury trial of former baseball star Roger Clemens, there is some evidence that Major League Baseball players have been scared straight, but less clear is whether the message has gotten through to kids dreaming of athletic fame and fortune.
Following the fall from grace of superstars accused of using steroids, like Clemens, home run king Barry Bonds and others, home runs and offensive statistics in general are way down in the big leagues over the last two years. That may suggest their tainted legacies, combined with MLB's drug-testing program, have made the pros think twice about using illegal substances.
But the jury is out on whether it's had a similar effect on young athletes.
"We certainly hope so," said Dr. James Winger, a sports medicine physician at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine.
"So much of the outcry in the last five to 10 years over the steroid problem ... has been in the name of young athletes and children, and making sure they're not running into health problems down the road. There have been some high-profile high school athletes who have taken drugs and had terrible consequences, including death," Winger said.
"We suppose a certain percentage of high school athletes are probably using, but what we know is a little different. The IHSA (Illinois High School Association) has been randomly testing, and the number of positive tests they're turning up is very low.
"It does appear that either (athletes are) not being caught or not using. On higher levels of competition, we favor not being caught because cheaters are several chemical levels ahead of the tests. On the high school level, we hope it's because they're not using," he said.
Though the results of the three years of IHSA drug testing are encouraging — 1,478 tests as of spring have yielded just two positive results that did not receive medical clearance — other figures are not.
Steroid use among teens rose in 2010, according to the University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future study on teenage drug use.
The survey of approximately 50,000 eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders showed 4 percent of male high school seniors said they used steroids in 2010 — up from 3.4 percent in 2009 and the highest number since 2004.
Those crusading against steroids, like Bears legend Dick Butkus, believe usage rates are actually higher because the survey relies on self-reporting.
Butkus has an organization called Play Clean that focuses on education as a means of diminishing demand, because supply is as easy as typing "buy steroids" into an Internet search engine, as Butkus said in a recent speech.
"This is not an inner-city problem," said Ron Arp, president of the Butkus Foundation. "It is a suburban problem. Families have disposable income, and with a line of credit anyone who is trying to get an edge to go from being a pretty good athlete to a college scholarship or is on track to the pros can order steroids off the Internet. What they just don't realize is they will end up ruining their health along the way."
Arp called the IHSA testing data encouraging, but he is somewhat skeptical about the results.
"A lot of variables go into testing, so it's not a great measure of the prevalence of steroids," Arp said. "People take steroids in flights, six weeks on and six weeks off. Then there is the variable of what you are testing for. Very few tests that are affordable can capture the gamut of potential compounds.
"Most tests are through urine and not blood, so you don't know how thorough they are. The major pro leagues and even the world doping agencies are constantly trying to find tests for things being used. We are chasing things that are designed by their very nature to be elusive," Arp said.
"I do think it is fantastic that some states are testing. It is a natural deterrent for people on the bubble if they know their career or eligibility could come crashing down."