The house is quiet. The door is shut. The room is dark. The young athlete flips on the computer. They go to a Web site discovered either by word of mouth or by a Google search. A menu of illegal performance-enhancing drugs pops up on the screen.
Anabolic steroids of choice are selected and added to the virtual shopping cart. Payment method? Credit card. Delivery address? A P.O. box. The transaction is complete.
``More kids than you might think know how to get them,'' said Everett football star George Paone, who is headed to Brown in the fall. ``Kids know they can get them online, on the Internet. You just need to be 18 and have a credit card.''
The above scenario, in fact, was mapped out, step by step, by a local high school athlete. Moreover, half the athletes interviewed for this series admitted knowledge of this avenue of purchase.
A surprising number of kids also know they can get the same kind of ``juice'' and ``gym candy'' that former American League MVP Jose Canseco admitted to using, and home run champ Barry Bonds claimed to have ``unwittingly'' used, if they hang out at certain gyms or health clubs long enough and hook up with unsavory dealers.
A trip to Mexico, where many steroids can be bought legally and then smuggled into the U.S., is another option.
``Just like kids are able to get different drugs like marijuana easier and easier, they can get steroids over the Internet and other places,'' Duke-bound Xaverian quarterback Zack Asack said. ``It's really becoming a problem. You don't want to judge a kid by the way they look, but some kids don't look normal.
``You don't want to say anything, but, you're saying to yourself, `Was he really built like that?' Some of these kids I see in track, they're really built. They have muscles, like, `Man, how did they get those muscles?' ''
``You don't want to judge them, but you're curious if they really take them. I'm starting to think the problem is getting up there.''
According to a national survey released last year by the Centers for Disease Control, 6.8 percent of boys in grades 9 through 12 had used steroids without a doctor's prescription. The rate for girls was 5.3 percent. In Massachusetts, 6 percent of high school boys reported using steroids, compared with 3 percent of girls. Additionally, a recent survey conducted by the NCAA indicated that nearly half of college athletes who admitted using steroids had begun in high school.
An escalating problem Judging by conversations with many of the area's top athletes, as well as local coaches and experts in the field, the problem may be greater than the numbers suggest. For athletes, the motivation could be a physical edge on the playing field or a scholarship to a Division 1 college. For non-athletes, the motivation could be enhanced looks or an improved body image.
But how do teenagers know what to shop for? High school athletes and experts indicated there are Web sites that inform the potential buyer which anabolic (tissue building) or androgenic (promoting masculine characteristics) steroids help put on muscle size and strength and which ones reduce body fat.
``There are Web sites that tell you which ones to choose and they're available in mass quantities,'' said Dr. Todd Schilfstein, a sports medicine physician at NYU Medical Center. ``They tell you everything ... they tell you how to do it. They give you directions like a cookbook.''
In other words, commonly used steroids, such as Deca-Durabolin, Winstrol, and Equipoise, which are considered among the most abused by adults, along with other popular anabolics such as Anadrol and Dianabol, are literally at a teenager's fingertips.
So are steroid precursors such as Androstenedione, which had been a legal supplement when Mark McGwire was using it in 1998, the year he broke Roger Maris' home run record. Now, it's off the shelves, but still available via the Internet.
According to Matt Nuzzo, who quarterbacked Everett to three Div. 1 Super Bowl titles and also plays baseball, Andro was the supplement of choice thanks to the retired Cardinals slugger's influence.
High school kids on 'roid to ruin: Dangerous performance-enhancing drugs just a few clicks away ``That was real common when it was legal. I knew a lot of kids who took that,'' said Nuzzo, who also is headed to Brown. ``I took an occasional protein, but I was scared to take that. It was a hint of moving on to the real thing.''
Flirting with disaster
Suffolk University head trainer Jeff Stone, who also serves on the MIAA's Sports Medicine Committee, paints a picture of misuse at all levels.
``What happens is, depending where they get the steroids -- and there's not a lot of legal places for them to get them -- a lot of these people self-medicate themselves,'' Stone said. ``There's no one saying, `Take two pills in the morning and that's it.' It's more like, `Gee, if I take X amount of pills, or X shots, and I lift so much, and I gain so much weight, well maybe if I take twice as much, I can do twice as much.'
``There's no one monitoring. People are regulating themselves. There's no supervision. There's no one talking about the potential damage. You look at prostate problems and heart conditions. Some of those effects in the long-term can be irreversible.''
Over the long haul, steroids can cause serious heart, liver and kidney damage. Steroid use has also been linked to stroke and cancer.
For young women -- the highest rate of steroid use among high school students nationally was reported by ninth-grade girls (7.3 percent) -- the fallout could mean changes in or the cessation of the menstrual cycle. For boys, steroid use can shrink testicles. Adolescents' growth also could be halted early through premature skeletal maturation and accelerated puberty changes.
But teenagers who use these drugs aren't thinking of the future. They're thinking in the moment, and how much better they can look or perform. They may hear warnings from parents or school administrators, but they feel a certain sense of invincibility. It won't happen to them.
``I think kids are taking our precautions seriously,'' said Chelmsford athletic director Jack Fletcher, who along with his coaches and trainers lectures his athletes on the perils of steroid use. ``But there will always be those who will push the envelope and live on the edge.''
Legal, but dangerous
For those who don't believe they're living on the edge, who think they are playing it safe with legal, over-the-counter supplements, there's a disturbing wrinkle. Coaches, trainers and athletic directors all voiced concern about the improper use of legal stimulants like creatine and muscle builders such as No2 (nitric oxide).
``My greatest fear? Some of those supplements, a lot of kids don't know about the effects to the heart,'' said Central Catholic AD Peter Paladino. ``The kid says, `Well if one (dose) is good, two's better. Four's better than that.' Next thing you know, the kid's on the ground, having cardiac arrest. That's my greatest fear.''
Longtime Xaverian football coach Charlie Stevenson, who also serves as the school's athletic director, brought this same issue to the table. He not only warns his kids against illegal steroids, he won't encourage the use of legal performance enhancers.
``Kids take creatine, and ephedra was the big thing for a while before it was banned,'' Stevenson said. ``Why they do it, I don't know. I don't think it helps anyone. I tell my players there's no shortcut to success. We've had a lot of great players here, and I can say, every one of them were hard workers. That's how they achieved success. It wasn't because of a pill or powder. But you can't control everything a kid does, especially when they can walk into a store and pick something off the counter that says they're going to be bigger, faster and stronger.
``Some parents who are into fitness and nutrition do the same thing,'' Stevenson continued. ``They go to GNC and they have it for breakfast together. How do you control that? It's legal.''
Stevenson voiced the same fear Paladino expressed, not trusting that proper doses are being taken.
``My experience is, kids don't know how to read the label. Something that might not be harmful when taken according to direction can be harmful when not,'' said Stevenson. ``If one (dose) is good, maybe five will be better. That's why we discourage any use of it. You'd like to control everything the kids do. It's not possible, however.
``The steroid thing is one thing. It's illegal. If caught, they'll be punished severely. The legal supplements are a whole different ball of wax. That's a much harder issue. How do you punish kids for going down to the store and buying something that's legal?''
The great unknown
Creatine increases muscle mass and strength. But with all the potential side effects as of yet unknown, Dr. Ray Sahelian, a Los Angeles-based best-selling author of health books, including several on herbs and supplements, does not recommend the use of creatine for high school-aged kids.
``There is potential harm to the liver and kidneys, even though that information has yet to be determined. The long-term consequences of daily creatine ingestion aren't currently known,'' said Sahelian, who also maintains an informational Web site with respect to supplements. ``But the bottom line is, I'm not comfortable with teenagers using creatine for prolonged periods of time without supervision since they do not often know their limits.''
Nate Freiman, a senior pitcher for Wellesley this spring, said he hasn't witnessed big-time anabolic steroid use, but lends some credence to the misuse of legal supplements.
``That's actually something I have seen. I've seen kids take creatine and NO2 and rich protein shakes in an inappropriate dosage,'' said Freiman, who will attend Duke in the fall. ``That presents an equally dangerous, if not an even more dangerous problem. Education about that is just as important as the illegal stuff. I don't take that stuff, but I know (people) who do. I can see the change in them. I can't imagine any of that stuff being healthy, even in the regular dosage.'' [continue] Said Stevenson: ``It's a wider problem. Most people I've talked with at this level feel strongly the same way. I guess you just have to hope he or she who use (legal enhancers) are smart enough
Said Stevenson: ``It's a wider problem. Most people I've talked with at this level feel strongly the same way. I guess you just have to hope he or she who use (legal enhancers) are smart enough
Parents, coaches flex their muscle: Take vigilant stance against teenage steroid use By Karen Guregian/ Special Report Saturday, June 25, 2005 The second of three parts
Fred Tempesta knows steroid use is out there, lurking in the weeds like a snake, ready to poison one of his kids.
Tempesta and his wife, Debora, have sweated out the scare with three athletic boys. At this stage, Brian (29) and Nick (26) are both beyond high school, while 18-year-old Adam just completed his senior year at Brockton and is bound for UMass.
When Brian attended Cardinal Spellman, steroids weren't in the news as much as they are now. The Tempestas, however, have been on their guard. When Nick was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays and headed to the minor leagues, where steroid use is considered more prevalent, the parents did their best to head off trouble.
``When my son Nick was in the minor leagues, I felt helpless,'' Fred Tempesta said, the ache still present in his voice. ``I asked him all the time. I didn't know what to do. There was nothing I could do about it.''
Amid reports of increased steroid use at the high school level, the Tempestas felt they could have more of an influence on their youngest son.
``With my son Adam, there was something I could do about it. He still lives in my house. I could check it out,'' Fred Tempesta said. ``He was going to the gym almost every night, playing racquetball, working out. My wife was nervous, so we kept an eye on it.''
The Tempestas read up on steroids, got themselves familiar with the warning signs of usage, and monitored Adam.
``It's bad enough with teenagers. They have their own moods as it is, but with steroids, they get even more moody,'' Tempesta said. ``But I had the feeling he was all right because he wasn't gaining weight. He actually lost a few pounds, and I have to tell you, I felt so relieved when I saw that, because obviously, he wasn't taking steroids.''
Always on the lookout
Without the benefit of mandatory or voluntary testing at the high school level in Massachusetts, it's pretty much up to parents and coaches to warn kids about the dangers, check up on them, and keep on the lookout for signals of steroid use.
Many parents interviewed for this series knew what to look for in terms of the obvious side effects of anabolic steroid use from the weight gain, to the pronounced acne on the chest and back, to the irritability.
Coaches also were very much up to speed. Many have incorporated what they hope are preventative measures. Some schools, particularly at the Division 1 level, offer their own strength and conditioning programs in an effort to keep the kids away from gyms where they might run into trouble.
Everett football coach John DiBiaso, whose team has won three of the past four Div. 1 Super Bowls, has attempted to keep a tight rein on his athletes. That way, the chances of them being swayed by a dealer at an outside gym are reduced.
``Ninety-nine percent of the kids go through our program rather than join a private gym. So, what I found over the years, and I've coached for 23 years, if you offer it within your school, and you keep a handle on it, those problems that you speak of generally don't occur because you're monitoring those kids on a daily basis,'' DiBiaso said. ``You're seeing them all the time, and they're less likely to get involved in the wrong things because you're educating them and talking about things like that.
``When schools don't offer programs like this, and kids go to private gyms and health clubs, they tend to come across adults and people that point them in that direction. And by offering it right here in the building, and monitoring it ourselves, we really don't have a problem to speak of. We would know if someone went up 50 pounds in two weeks on their bench press, or suddenly gained weight, put on 25 pounds of muscle in a month. Red flags would go up all over the place.''
Having studied extensively on the topic, DiBiaso said it takes about a year for a teenager to put on 10 pounds of muscle. Any deviation would prompt him to take the youngster aside and have a chat. Should they actually get caught using, possessing, buying, selling or giving away steroids, under rules of the MIAA, the first violation would cost the student eligibility for the next two consecutive interscholastic events, or two weeks of the season in which the student is a participant, whichever encompasses the greater number of contests. [
DiBiaso takes it a step further.
``We scare the hell out of them. We tell them it's going to cost them any chance of playing sports in high school,'' DiBiaso said. ``All the people involved are teachers and educators. I feel it's a lot safer. I feel we're doing it a lot safer -- and free of charge.
``And by monitoring it like we do, we really haven't had a problem. I really can't speak for other schools. I just know, generally, when a person becomes involved in that stuff, they learn from a health club or older people,'' DiBiaso said. ``They learn how to cheat, but they're not told about the negative aspects, about your long-term health, your kidneys, your liver, your heart, and the problems that develop down the road.
``It's pretty easy to sell to a 15-year-old kid, `Hey, the only side effect is when you're 40.' They can't think past 18.''
`They don't have to cheat'
In March, six high school students from Daniel Hand High School in Connecticut were arrested on steroid charges after a few students purchased the drugs while vacationing with their parents in Mexico. Three of the boys played for the school's football team, which won the state championship.
Peter Colombo guided Brockton to the Div. 1 Super Bowl title last December. He understands the reputation of Brockton -- the winningest program in Massachusetts history -- and kids wanting to live up to that reputation.
``To compete against the schools we play against, you need to be strong. We encourage kids to do it the right way,'' said Colombo, who also teaches at the school. ``At this point in their lives, their bodies are never more efficient than they are right now. If they eat right, and do the work that needs to be done, they have the best of both. They don't have to cheat.
``The first thing we're teaching ... I'm not teaching them how to play pro football. I'm teaching them how to have integrity, to do something you can be proud of. And that's not cheating. That's how we approach it. If we have to cheat to win ... I'll find a different job. It's as simple as that.''
What would he do if he suspected a kid of steroid use?
``We would talk to the kid, approach the subject,'' Colombo said. ``We just haven't seen a big problem here at Brockton High. We've had some suspicions here and there ... but it really hasn't come up all that often.''
Xaverian football coach Charlie Stevenson, whose team won consecutive Super Bowl titles in 1994, '95 and '96, and again in '98, also keeps his kids pretty much corralled in the school's weight training facility. But as he stated in Part 1 of the series, he's also concerned about the legal supplements kids are taking and their potential misuse.
Colombo's best solution for the supplement issue is insisting kids bring in whatever they're buying.
``First off, we try to encourage them that the best way to do it is to eat a well-rounded diet,'' Colombo said. ``That said, we encourage the kids to talk to us before they do any supplements. Some of them can be useful. We encourage them to bring it in, show us what they're taking. We have a trainer here in school who's excellent, who'll review it, and make sure they're not taking something that will hurt him.''
Without testing, without actual proof of use, this is what coaches are left to do. This is how they attempt to keep on top of the issue.
To test or not to test
Many do not believe there is a need to test at this stage in Massachusetts, where 6 percent of high school boys and 3 percent of high school girls have admitted to using steroids without a doctor's prescription, according to a national survey conducted last year by the Centers for Disease Control.
``For us to think that's what it's come to, it's very disappointing,'' Stevenson said of testing. ``I understand the concern everyone has, and it's certainly a legitimate concern. It's like someone out there telling you no kid has ever smoked pot. It's out there. Kids are kids. But for it to become a mandatory testing policy at the high school level would be disappointing to me, if that's what it's come to. But if you stay in something long enough, you wind up seeing things you thought you'd never see in your career.''
Some parents, however, voiced support for testing.
``I think they should start testing in high school. I'm for it,'' said Diane Nuzzo, whose son, Matt, quarterbacked Everett to three Div. 1 Super Bowl titles. ``I think the kids see the pros taking it, and the kids feel they need that extra edge. I just see so many kids who look like they are (using steroids).''
While two of Diane Nuzzo's sons have graduated -- Matt will attend Brown in the fall -- 14-year-old Brian remains in the nest.
``I hope they would never have the feeling they would have to go elsewhere to get (an edge),'' she said. ``Hopefully they'll stay away from it. I can't ever tell you my kids will never do it. I just hope they won't.''
Tammy McCoy, whose son, John, quarterbacked Bishop Feehan to a pair of Div. 4 Super Bowl titles several years ago, also would back some form of testing.
``Fortunately, I never had to deal with it personally,'' she said. ``But there are a lot of pressures on these kids. There are a lot of pressures to succeed when they realize there are college scholarships out there and lots of money to be had. I'd have no problem with random testing. I know people talk about protecting the kids' rights, but steroids and drugs are serious business. It's scary.''
Glenn Cole's son, Adam, led Lincoln-Sudbury to the Div. 2 baseball state championship. The pitcher is headed to Harvard in the fall. Cole believes communication and education are two of the keys in helping keep their kids away from steroid use. Like many of the other parents, he also is keen to the warning signs.
``I try to be as aware and talk to him as much as I can. A lot of times, we talk about it,'' Cole said. ``Hopefully, they stay on the straight and narrow. But a lot of times, you never know. You cross your fingers.''
An open secret at our high schools: Student-athletes speak frankly about steroids By Karen Guregian/ Special Report Sunday, June 26, 2005 Last of three parts
Reading about another athlete's tragic story gave Xaverian multi-sport star Zack Asack all the inspiration he needed to stay away from steroids.
The outgoing senior, who will be taking his talents to Duke in the fall, was smacked with a cruel dose of reality about the potential evils of bulking up the artificial way.
``I saw an article, I think it was in Newsweek, about this high school kid who took steroids and his life was ruined. That had a pretty big impact on my life,'' said Asack, who threw for 2,100 yards and 18 touchdown passes last year in football. ``He was a great athlete and he got hooked on the supplements and stuff. That really opened up my eyes.''
Besides his exploits on the football field, Asack was also a state champion hurdler on the Xaverian track team.
``If kids my age take them, they really don't know how it's going to affect them in the long run. I think a lot of kids who take them don't realize that,'' Asack said. ``They're just looking at the short term. I don't think they know all the side effects. A lot of kids think, (side effects) like 'roid rage won't happen to me. I'll control it. All kids think they're invincible. But they really don't know what it can do.''
Nate Freiman also is Duke-bound. The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Wellesley pitcher, who went 10-0 this season with a microscopic earned run average, can hurl a baseball 90-plus mph.
Not a chance.
``I really don't like the whole steroid thing. It's too bad it's an issue at all,'' said Freiman. ``I just hope for every kid who is taking steroids, there is a vast majority who aren't and recognize that it's cheating, who are willing to come forward and prove they are clean. I would participate in a voluntary testing program.''
Price of success
George Paone, a 5-11, 235-pound rock of a linebacker/fullback who was instrumental in leading Everett to four Division 1 Super Bowl appearances during his high school career, says there's suspicion cast over successful programs. That's the current climate thanks to all the attention cast on steroids in the media.
The National Honor Society member, who sported a 4.18 GPA, officially played on three championship teams. He likes Freiman's way of thinking.
``Our school, because we win championships, has gotten somewhat of a reputation. We have big kids. We must be on steroids,'' said Paone, who was the co-MVP of the defense last season. ``So I'd say bring it on. If the testing was voluntary, I'd go just to show we're not on steroids.''
Teammate Matt Nuzzo has also heard the rumors and innuendo. The 6-foot, 195-pound quarterback, who was also a pitcher and shortstop for the Crimson Tide baseball team,just takes it all in stride.
``I hear it all the time in baseball. You're a steroid user. I'm not even that big. I'm a normal-sized kid. But I find it as a compliment,'' Nuzzo said. ``I've lived with it for a while. I just say, `Thanks.' ''
He also says ``no'' when it comes to needles and illegal muscle builders. Like many others, he doesn't want his accomplishments to be tainted. He doesn't want any asterisk hung next to his records.
``I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't feel the same about what I've accomplished. It's not worth it in the long run. You feel like you've cheated yourself,'' said Nuzzo, who broke the school record for career touchdown passes (31). ``You want all your athletic ability to come from what you've worked hard for, what you got. If you have something that's not natural in your body, I don't know how people can look at you the same way.''
Andover second baseman Matt Iorio, who is bound for UMass-Lowell in the fall, agreed.
``It's about wanting to be real,'' he said. ``You don't want to have any fake muscles on you. You want to accomplish everything yourself. You don't want any help. You want to achieve it yourself. It makes you feel better.''
Paone described it another way.
``It's more or less about pride,'' he said. ``You want to reach your goals yourself.''
Hopkinton's Emily Daly recorded the longest discus throw in the state this year, hurling it 134 feet, 7 inches. Daly, who will attend Dartmouth in the fall, can't conceive of putting steroids in her body.
``I've done a lot of weight-lifting, explosive work, and plyometrics,'' she said, ``but even if I wanted to get stronger, or look better, I still wouldn't do it. It's cheating.''
The pro connection
Several high school athletes acknowledged there is a trickle-down effect from what's happening at the professional level. If Mark McGwire can club 70 home runs with the aid of Andro, and Barry Bonds is going to top Hank Aaron by ``unwittingly'' using the steroid known as ``the cream,'' kids are going to try it. That's a fallout that's tough to escape.
``If kids see it really works, it does trickle down,'' Asack said. ``Plus, you see all these shows with athletes, and you see all their cribs and houses, and you see what stardom can do. Knowing the stuff is out there, and it can help you perform better, and get you to a caliber where you can make all that money, it could get you hooked on it, and want to try it. It's out there, and hard to avoid.''
Lincoln-Sudbury pitcher Adam Cole, who helped guide his team to this spring's Div. 2 state title, also sees a connection.
``I definitely think some kids (want to emulate) the stars,'' said Cole, who is bound for Harvard. ``They see how it works. I just think athletes need to realize how much influence they have on kids, especially when they're taking that kind of stuff.''
In trying to emulate the stars, kids get grandiose ideas that they can get to the next level using steroids. Even the elite high school athletes think there could be a better college out there waiting for them if they get bigger, faster, stronger with steroids.
``There's definitely kids out there who believe that. Probably some kids who do, then go do it, and wish they didn't,'' Nuzzo said. ``Some kids that I've seen, they just don't look natural. They don't look like themselves. They look stiff.
``Then the rumors start. You don't have what you were born with. You lose your flexibility. You lose who you are. It's not you. It's like getting a surgery on your body. If kids are going to try that, it's their decision. If that's what they want to do, they have to face (the consequences).''
Several of the athletes interviewed have read Jose Canseco's controverial book ``Juiced.''
``It gave me a different perspective on the whole thing,'' Cole said. ``He had a pretty convincing way of defending himself. But the guy is ... I wouldn't say a nut. But he's a little off. It was interesting how he talked about steroids as the next evolution. He didn't play devil's advocate at all.''
Said Freiman: ``I just hope people don't buy his philosophy about steroids paving the way for the superhuman athlete. I think he's a liar and did it because he needed money. He stabbed all his teammates in the back. That wasn't cool.'' ,p> Many of the high schoolers ultimately were turned off by watching Canseco, McGwire, and several other baseball stars testify during the congressional hearings in March. The home run kings didn't look so heroic or noble while sweating and stuttering under oath.
Different for girls
Two members of Westwood's championship girls lacrosse team, Lauren Fitzpatrick and Maura Mahoney, offer a completely different perspective on the steroids issue. Listening to the two Boston College-bound athletes, the topic doesn't seem to have impacted girls in the same way as the guys.
There aren't whispers about other athletes using. There isn't the pressure to boost performance in competition. The girls claim, and Hopkinton's Daly agreed, that any steroid involvement with females is not related to athletics. It's more with girls who are obsessed with looking good.
``When you see a female athlete in high school who looks strong, you never think she's on steroids,'' Fitzpatrick said.
Added Mahoney: ``Creatine is the norm in high school, especially for boys. But you still don't see girls taking supplements.''
Paone, speaking on behalf of the boys, doesn't believe it's merely male athletes who are getting hooked on the juice. He suggested looking past the ballfields, tracks and gymnasiums.
``I think a lot of kids who take them don't play sports,'' said Paone, who works part-time at Super Fitness in Malden. ``There are a lot of kids who just want to look good in the gym or out on the beach. But still, it's gotten to be a very big problem. I can see a day where maybe, if it's the right community, you just might see voluntary testing.''
Until then, it's utltimately up to the high school kids to police themselves. When asked what they would do if one of their teammates or friends was taking steroids, most indicated they would try to get them to stop.
``Definitely,'' Xaverian's Asack said. ``You don't want anyone to go through that. Plus, if they get caught, it's not worth it. You're hurting yourself. You can do what you want to do, but it's going to hurt you in the long run.''