Bill would make steroids without prescription illegal

Proposal would make use a misdemeanor with jail time, fine

Posted: Thursday, February 10, 2005

Shannon Sawyer loves wrestling, football and bodybuilding and says he's never used steroids in his life.

But the 15-year-old, 175-pound Palmer High School freshman who can bench press 300 pounds has been accused of using.

"People see me and, you know, they see how much I can lift and automatically assume that," he said. "It's kind of a compliment."

Sawyer said the problem does exist in Palmer and some who are abusing are close friends.

"I've tried to talk to as many of them as I can, but most of them won't listen," he said.

After hearing of a proposal to make nonprescription steroid use illegal in Alaska, he wrote a letter to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, to ask what he could do to help.

He said he's seen the effects of nonprescription steroid use in his own high school - violent mood swings and hostile outbursts.

"Having a 250-pound enraged individual coming at me does not sound like a sporting event, or not one that the majority of Alaskans want to participate in," he said in the e-mail to French.

Alaska is one of two states that does not make it illegal to use steroids without a prescription.

French has introduced the bill to fill what he says is a loophole in the law. French said federal laws still prohibit nonprescription use but along with Vermont, the state of Alaska has no way to prosecute illegal use or distribution of steroids.

The proposal would make nonprescription use a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine. Illegal distribution would be a felony, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $50,000 fine.

"I'm not trying to launch a huge law enforcement effort here," French said. "The idea is to keep high school kids from going to the Internet and buying something to mess up their bodies with."

Steroid use among the nation's twelfth graders has doubled from 2.1 percent to 4 percent between 1991 and 2002, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A NIDA survey in 1999 showed that 479,000 students nationwide - about 2.9 percent - had used steroids by their senior year.

A 2003 risk behavior survey of 2,175 high school students in Alaska shows about 3.5 percent have used steroids, down from 3.9 percent in 1995.

Todd Arndt, a supervisor for the Anchorage School District who deals with disciplinary matters in the high schools, said he hasn't seen any cases of steroid abuse in his three years on the job.

Acting Juneau-Douglas High School Principle John Norman also said he has not seen students using steroids.

Those caught using would be suspended from sports for 30 days, Norman said.

"For most kids, that's the whole sports season because by that time they can't really get back into form," he said.

French said he doesn't believe there is rampant abuse of steroids in the state. But he said he recently conducted an informal survey of mostly rural athletic directors that showed four of 18 suspect young people they've coached or seen on other teams have used steroids.

French said he doesn't want teens or anyone else to be misled by the fact that there is no state law forbidding it.

"I don't want to oversell this," French said. "This isn't Reefer Madness."

French served six years as a state prosecutor and said it is unlikely that federal prosecutors would have the time and resources to focus on individual steroids cases.

"I think it would take one prosecution a year to get it in the public consciousness," he said.

The bill is SB 49.

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