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Despite warnings, athletes still use human growth hormone

The National Collegiate Athletic Association had another kind of March Madness – from the growing popularity of human growth hormone, and that includes concerns about the athletes at Florida Atlantic University.

“We see this as a growing problem at our university,” FAU athletic trainer Jenna Reed said. “A lot of pressure is put on college athletes, especially in Division 1, to be the best of the best.”

Human growth hormone is a banned substance in the NCAA rule book and throughout most other professional sports, but that has not stopped athletes from injecting the performance-enhancer over the past few years.

The hormone is naturally secreted by the pituitary gland, and is an important part of the growth process. Medically, this growth hormone is used to correct endocrine deficiencies in childhood.

“I take HGH because I can’t gain weight for the life of me,” said an FAU athlete, who asked that his name not be used because of the consequences for using the hormone. “I don’t think it’s a problem because I’m not abusing it to cheat. I just want to put weight on.”

But some NCAA athletes are using HGH as a performance-enhancing substance to build muscle mass, burn fat and increase advance strength. And they are getting away with it.

The hormone is undetectable because there is no accurate test for finding elevated HGH levels. The only way to detect HGH use is by using blood tests instead of urinalysis. And that is against NCAA rules.

“The NCAA is trying to find a way to test for HGH in urine,” Reed said, “But by the time they figure it out, I’m sure there will be another drug out there for the athletes to get away with.”

Without a way to detect who uses human growth hormone, the NCAA is hard pressed to control and punish the athletes who inject the hormone and other banned nutritional or dietary supplements. But efforts are being made.

Marc Paul, head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director at Boise State University in Idaho and NCAA Drug-Education and Drug-Testing Subcommittee chair, sent an e-mail to all NCAA athletes reinforcing the importance of nutritional and dietary supplement misuse.

“If a student-athlete tests positive for use of a supplement product and has not checked this product out with the athletics staff,” Paul wrote, “the student-athlete bears full responsibility and sanctions for a positive drug test.”

However, the e-mail warning did not affect most athletes in the way Paul planned.

“I’m not going to stop using HGH because I can’t get caught for it,” said a star FAU athlete, who also asked not to be identified. “This hormone is like benefitting from a ‘healthy’ steroid, so why wouldn’t I take it?”

The answer to that question for most unthreatened athletes may be the cost of HGH. The injected hormone can cost $500 a month, and results may not be seen until about three or four months plus dedicated workouts and continued hormone use.

“After two or three months of taking HGH,” an FAU player said, “I’ve gained two pounds, so it’s not like HGH makes you a huge muscle man. You still have to put in a lot of work to get the results.”




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