Steroid abuse is a real problem. In fact, you could call it a national epidemic. While most people associate steroid abuse with professional athletes, the truth is, the problem hits closer to home than you may think. A recent study by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids shows that the use of steroids and other appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APEDs) among America’s youth is alarming. Experts say as much as seven percent of all U.S. high school and middle school students admit to knowingly using anabolic steroids. Mathematically, that equates to about three to four dozen students per high school, and about one student per classroom. These findings do not reflect the number of people who are unknowingly ingesting APEDs via unregulated dietary supplements spiked with these drugs.
With high expectations in youth sports programs, young athletes sometimes turn to steroids to build muscle, help them run faster and to get the upper edge in their sport. The results can be deadly, as one local family sadly found out.
Longtime Collin County resident Don Hooton shares, “Our youngest son, Taylor, committed suicide in July of 2003. We soon learned that Taylor had been using anabolic steroids for about seven months before he died. Multiple experts reviewed Taylor’s case and determined that the depression that led him to take his life resulted from his use of anabolic steroids. As parents, we were completely caught off guard. We were unaware that so many kids were playing with these drugs and shocked to find out how dangerous these drugs can be. Our friends were just as unaware of this situation. Feeling that we were called by God to address this problem, we formed a foundation for the purpose of raising awareness about the scope of the problem, while educating kids and their parents about the dangers of these drugs.”
Instead of getting lost in their heartbreak, Mr. Hooton and his
wife, Gwen, decided to channel their grief into a mission, creating a foundation that is dedicated to educating families, children, school districts, the Texas legislature in Austin and even congressional committees in Washington, D.C. about the dangers of APEDs. Mr. Hooton explains, “The Taylor Hooton Foundation (THF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Collin County. The foundation was formed in memory of our son, Taylor E. Hooton, a 17-year-old high school athlete from Plano, Texas. After Taylor took his own life, Gwen and I, our family and our friends founded the organization after learning of the growing number of middle school, high school and college students illegally using and abusing anabolic steroids, human growth hormones (HGH), unregulated dietary supplements and other APEDs.”
Mr. Hooton continues, “We discovered that this is a serious problem among young athletes and non-athletes, and learned that young people and their parents are uneducated about either the prevalence of or the real dangers of these powerful drugs. In the years since Taylor’s death, usage rates among the nation’s youth have reached epidemic levels. In response to this problem, THF has built a small team that travels the continent speaking to and educating young people and their adult influencers about APEDs. THF is widely recognized as the national leader in education on the topic of APED use by the youth of the U.S., Canada and Latin America. To date, the THF has spoken to almost one million people directly with our educational programs.” These staggering statistics are shared on
Usage rates of anabolic steroids and other APEDs continue to grow. “It has crept into society all around us, and we do not even notice it! While the usage began in the athletic community, it has now spread to the general youth population. Young people are turning to these drugs in an effort to help them look better and may never compete in athletic activities,” Mr. Hooton shares.
Most people think this is an athletic problem, but it is really a body image problem. “An astounding number of teenage girls and boys admit to taking APEDs for body enhancing reasons. They want bodies that are not achievable without the use of these drugs. Most people are aware of anorexia and bulimia (getting skinny), but what we have with APED abuse is ‘bigorexia,’ people wanting to get bigger,” Mr. Hooton says. “Most parents have the ‘this is not going to happen to my kid’ mentality, yet the stats about anabolic steroid use are staggering.”
With recent studies showing seven percent of the total high school population admitting to using APEDs, that means 140 kids right up the street are using these drugs.
Mr. Hooton says, “The seriousness of the problem with steroid use does not translate with kids. In order to stop steroid use, parents and coaches must have real discussions about the negative effects of these drugs, and we need to be aware of the signs and symptoms of abuse. Steroids can have long-lasting and sometimes irreversible side effects on the body.”
The only real weapon we have at our disposal is education. “We travel the country speaking to kids and their adult influencers. Our goal is to provide people with the information they need to make good decisions, to get them to understand that these drugs are dangerous and unnecessary,” Mr. Hooton says. “We came up with the idea of identifying role models to hold up for kids as examples of professional athletes who make it to the top of every sport by doing things the right way … hard work, exercise and eating properly. With this in mind, we created the All Me™ League. We approached Major League Baseball (MLB) with the idea and they agreed to support our outreach to their players. I am proud to tell you that we now have a player from each of all 30 MLB teams who have joined our THF All Me Advisory Board,” he adds. Each player signs a pledge to live and compete PED free, and all are promoted on allmeleague.com. In addition to players, the organization has second and third groups of professionals who have agreed to live and compete PED free, including athletic trainers and strength coaches. In addition to serving on the board, All Me players talk to children at their games and tell them how they made it to the top without doing drugs. These role models show kids that you can make it to the top without cheating, and that you can achieve your goals by doing the right things in the right way. This helps send a very powerful message to kids.
Today, THF has grown to six full-time personnel, but they are always looking for volunteers to help them with their mission. Mr. Hooton adds, “We encourage people in the community to become involved by volunteering to participate in our various fundraising activities that we hold each year.” These events serve both to raise money to offer more educational programs, as well as provide an opportunity for messaging to members of the larger North Texas community.
The primary sponsor for THF is MLB. Other national sports leagues like the National Football League (NFL) and National Hockey League (NHL) also support THF. In addition, the organization has sponsorships from a number of local companies including Smith Thompson Security, Home Team Insurance, First Choice Loans, Numerex Corp and others. They also rely on a number of annual fundraisers to provide financial support to educational programs, including an annual gala in the spring, a cigar happy hour in June, a special event at Yankee Stadium in August, a golf tournament and accompanying tailgate party in September and a clay shooting event in October.
Mr. Hooton concludes, “My message to parents is please do not be naive and think that your child is immune to using these drugs. Our job, collectively, is to provide our children with the information they need. Your kids do not need supplements, and certainly do not allow them to purchase a supplement that is not on the approved NSF Certified for Sport® list. NSF International created this specially-designed program as a nonprofit company focused on testing dietary supplements or sports nutrition products to ensure they do not contain banned substances. They just simply do not need it. If it is good enough for the Texas Rangers, it is good enough for you.”
For more information about THF, to volunteer or to learn more about APEDs, visit taylorhooton.org or call 972.403.7300. Be healthy. Be smart. Educate. Communicate. Be vigilant. Say no to drugs.