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It’s time for us to admit local teens using HGH

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Not here. Not with our kids.

That’s the sense that we’ve collectively lulled ourselves to believe with our Johnson County teenagers and HGH, or human growth hormone.

Not anymore.

We just can’t afford to be oblivious. The numbers suggest we are very wrong.

Experimentation with HGH by America’s teens more than doubled in the past year, as more young people looked to drugs to boost their athletics performance and improve their looks, according to a new, large-scale national survey.

If you believe we are insulated from the real world, you can stop reading here.

If not, then it is time to take notice.

The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids confirmed a significant increase — a doubling — in the reported lifetime use of synthetic human growth hormone among teens. According to the latest data released last week and covering the 2013-14 school year, 11 percent of teens in Grades 9 to 12 reported “ever having used” synthetic human growth hormone without a prescription, up dramatically from just 5 percent in 2012.

The Partnership says this “underscores teens’ growing interest in performance-enhancing substances, as well as the need for tighter regulation and more accurate labeling of “fitness-enhancing” over-the-counter products implying they contain synthetic HGH.”

The findings arrive at a time when recreational drug use — such as alcohol and marijuana — is either stagnant or declining. At the same time, though, teens’ perception of the dangers of hormones is declining, perhaps explaining the spike in usage in an image-obsessed culture. As well, the NFL especially has been lax in not testing for HGH, creating a further perception of acceptance.

“These new data point to a troubling development among today’s teens. Young people are seeking out and using performance-enhancing substances like synthetic HGH — and supplements purporting to contain HGH — hoping to improve athletic performance or body appearance without really knowing what substances they are putting into their bodies,” said Steve Pasierb, President and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, in announcing the results.

Let’s not assume this is problem that only occurs elsewhere. The findings are fairly consistent among whites, blacks and Hispanics (though slightly higher in minority groups). Perhaps more surprising, usage among boys and girls is fairly equal.

Let’s also not be misled by “11 percent,” which makes this look like a relatively small number. Do the math. That percentage equals 876 Johnson County high school students. Maybe we are below that average, maybe above it. In any event, we’ve got a problem.

Teens are taking dangerous risks with their health by using performance-enhancing substances – both boys and girls are entering a largely unregulated marketplace in which products of many varieties are aggressively promoted with promises of improved muscle mass, performance and appearance.

“These are not products that assure safety and efficacy. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines must go through rigorous testing to be proven safe before being sold to the public, but supplement products appear on store shelves without regulation from the Food and Drug Administration and must actually be proven unsafe before being removed from sale,” Pasierb said.

“That creates a false perception of safety driving impressionable teens to risk their health with potentially dangerous products that are untested.”

Teens latching on to unregulated products that promise improved image and performance is a dangerous formula. An equally troubling finding is that teen use of steroids without prescriptions — which can have profound effects on heart and brain development — is up to 7 percent.

Former professional cyclist and anti-doping advocate Tyler Hamilton knows all about that pressure.

“What I encounter when talking to teens is the significant pressure they feel to excel,” said Hamilton, who gave back his Olympic Gold medal after admitting to performance-enhancing drug use throughout his career. “Whether it’s in sports, school, social status or appearance, teens feel they need to be better. The study provides a good opportunity for parents and other influential figures in their lives to realize what teens are facing and reinforce a message of unconditional love and acceptance.”

Indeed, only 12 percent of teens reported that their parents talked to them about the use of HGH in the past year. That is somewhat understandable, as the presence of a problem has not been apparent.

That changes now. HGH and unregulated growth supplements are proliferating in use among teens. The consequences — many of which are yet unknown in this backroom industry — simply are not worth the risks in teens.

It can happen here. Change that. It does happen here.

The question is, what are you going to do about it?

Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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