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In the early 1960s a high school team physician, working in cooperation with a pharmaceutical company, gave anabolic steroids to members of the football team. The program was clandestine. It apparently violated state interscholastic regulations and came to an abrupt halt when other football coaches heard about it and complained. Supposedly a report on the effects of the hormones on the high school boys was made, but the pharmaceutical company will not release it and the doctor will not discuss it.
Dr. H. Kay Dooley, of Pomona, Calif., now perhaps the physician who most openly advocates the use of anabolic steroids—though under a doctor's supervision—oversaw a study in 1965 testing three different commercial brands of the drug on 10th- and 11th-grade football players in Bloomington, Calif. Dooley believes the drugs did increase muscle size and improve performance, and he says there were no undesirable side effects. However, he says his procedures were not sufficiently controlled to provide hard evidence supporting the efficacy of the drug. He would like to see "a good scientific study" done.
Perhaps the best existing document on the subject was published in 1966 by Dr. William M. Fowler Jr., then of the UCLA Medical School. Summarized, the Fowler report found that the hormonal drugs do increase weight. However, said Fowler, "To equate increases in weight with a possible increase in strength can be erroneous, since considerable evidence exists that much of the increase in weight is due to water retention." Fowler concluded that the relationship between anabolic steroids and strength increase in athletes is unproved, and may be unprovable because it does not exist. As to the dangers connected with the drug, Fowler lists as major ones: testicular atrophy, change in the libido, liver damage and edema.
In preparing his report, Fowler queried 38 "well-known weight lifters or field-event men." He found "50% had taken or were taking one or more of the anabolic steroids. Of the users, 47% had received the drug from physicians, and 47% were taking a dosage that was two to four times greater than the therapeutic amount recommended. All of the 19 men on the drugs expressed the belief that their performance had improved. Only five denied any side effects. Most of the 19 men had been taking anabolic drugs on and off for at least one year."
Considering the debatable effectiveness, the potential dangers and the abusive use, Fowler arrived at a strong conclusion: "The use of androgens in athletes is unethical and illegal, and those using or administering them should be banned from further competition or professional activity."
Another concern is the suspicion of many physicians that the anabolic steroids may increase the chances of premature cancer of the prostate. Says Dr. Allan J. Ryan of the University of Wisconsin: "We won't be truly able to evaluate the damage this fad may have caused for 10 or 15 years."
All in all, the anabolic steroid scene is not a happy one. There is a lot of clandestine gossip that the drug is effective and safe—or that it is useless and dangerous—but no one has convincing proof either way. Many anabolic steroid users feel guilty about the practice and suspect they are doing something sneaky, but no sporting body in the U.S. has specifically declared the drug illegal, or for that matter even plainly said that its use is unethical or dangerous.
Among many who are perplexed by the anabolic steroid problem and the general confusion surrounding the athletic medicine chest is Dave Maggard, the young University of California track coach who was a shotputter on the 1968 Olympic team. Maggard's problem is simple: he is uncertain how he should advise the young men he is coaching.
"What I wish," says Maggard, "is that some reputable scientific group would really study certain drugs and tell us yes or no as to whether they are effective, and yes or no as to whether they are dangerous. Then I'd like to see the NCAA, the AAU, the U.S. Olympic Committee and all the conferences go ahead and put us straight—tell all of us to either use the drugs, or don't. I think if most drugs were banned—things like amphetamines, barbiturates, anabolic steroids—most athletes would stop using them. It's this halfway stuff, the rumors, the idea maybe you have to use them to be competitive that has made it such a mess."
That there is not now sufficient information to give firm answers on the safety and effectiveness of the many drugs that athletes use does not diminish the importance of Maggard's question, nor provide an excuse for ignoring it.