TOP Nelson Mandela Bay and Eastern Cape schools are signing up in droves for a groundbreaking initiative aimed at testing for steroid use among pupils in the hope that the growing trend may be curbed and ultimately prevent loss of life.
The Schools Testing Protocol, which was launched this week, allows schools to initiate unscheduled tests, conducted by the SA Institute for Drug Free Sport (Saids), on pupils suspected of doping.
It is the first time in the world such an initiative has officially been rolled out in schools – some of which say steroids are "rife” – and according to Saids, many countries will be looking on with interest to see how effective it will be.
The use of banned substances has already accounted for the life of at least one boy in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Theo Pieterse, head coach at Ithembe-lihle High School in New Brighton, revealed that a pupil died last year after "injecting himself with a substance and he had a heart attack”.
The school rugby team, which was named as the country’s schools sports team of the year at the SA Sports Awards last year, does not have a random drug test programme and so was "100% behind the initiative”.
During the past two seasons the prestigious Craven Week rugby tournament featuring provincial school rugby teams has also been blighted by players testing positive for steroids, the last being a 17-year-old at the tournament in Nelson Mandela Bay last year.
However, during a presentation on the new initiative at Grey High School in Port Elizabeth this week, Andrew Breetzke, an attorney who has drafted the Saids Schools Testing Protocol, said the programme would not be restricted to testing rugby players. "The test is not exclusive to rugby players but is for all boys and girls who play sport,” he told an audience of principals and sports coaches from around the province.
The programme will allow school principals to request a doping control agent from Saids to test a pupil suspected of doping. A urine test will be sent to a laboratory in the Free State, and if the pupil should be found guilty, the school may take the necessary steps, including expulsion.
Saids will pay for five tests from each school, after which the schools will have to pay. The cost involved is a maximum of R2 800 per test.
The list of prohibited substances includes diuretics anabolic agents and hormone and metabolic modulators.
Breetzke said there had been pressure to "do something” about steroid use at schools, especially since 2011 when Saids was inundated with requests from headmasters from around the country to intervene. "There is an increase in steroid use in schools,” he said.
Grey High School director of pastoral care Derryk Jordan said even though the school did not have any instances of pupils abusing steroids "we mustn’t be ignorant but proactive”.
Emphasising that the school wanted parents involved, Jordan said the school currently had a random drug test in place, to which "90% of parents have consented” but to date this excluded testing for steroids.
Victoria Park High School principal Mike Vermaak is also "very supportive” of the initiative.
Even though the school has a random drug-test policy in place, it does not test for steroids. "We don’t seem to have a problem but one would be naive to think you’re absolutely 100% clear.
Daniel Pienaar High School director of rugby Johan du Toit said school authorities would be meeting with Saids next week and would "definitely be signing up”.
The school does random drug tests but does not test for steroids.
In East London, Hudson Park High principal Roy Hewett said although the school had not been invited to sign up to, he was open to considering such a move.
"I’m pretty sure that in the interest of good health and clean living we would consider signing up.”
Hewett said steroid abuse was "rife” in most schools. St Andrews College headmaster Paul Edey said the college was in full support of the programme, which they had signed up for.
"We were never pushed to sign up, it is something we have been doing for the past two years already. We have been doing what is called targeted testing whereby we test the boys on suspicion of using performance enhancing drugs,” Edey said.
The school has been very tough on any transgressors, and has even asked boys to leave the school.
"We will also suspend boys caught selling any drugs that would enhance one’s performance in a competitive sport.”
King William’s Town’s Dale College principal Mike Eddy said his school would welcome signing up for the protocol should he be approached.
Eddy said he would be "extremely disappointed” should his boys be tested positive for steroids.
"I don’t have evidence of any of the boys using steroids, but I do have evidence of them taking supplements, but I’m not sure what’s in them. I’m not naive and some boys will take chances.”
Port Elizabeth sports doctor Dr Peter Schwartz said anabolic steroids had "a widespread negative effect” on all systems of the body, including the central nervous system, heart, liver, skin and sexual function.
"The negative effect on the brain induces hostility, anger, aggression, mental dysfunction and psychopathic behaviour," he said.
"Because they are anabolic, they enlarge the heart and that can lead to premature heart attack. They affect the skin and can lead to acne, while the liver is affected by raised cholesterol, which can lead to the clogging of the arteries and a heart attack."
He dismissed notions that steroid use led to youngsters trying other drugs.
One of the more notorious cases involving steroid use concerns Brent Cunningham, the Port Elizabeth man accused of assaulting three people, including his girlfriend, in December.
Cunningham was previously acquitted of murder after he claimed self-defence, and received a two-year suspended sentence for assaulting his father.
The 21-year-old has admitted to using steroids, which could have influenced his behaviour.
Respected Port Elizabeth personal trainer Craig Walters said he had begun to notice a problem with steroid abuse among youngsters last year.
"You don’t see them taking the steroids but you know and hear that it is happening. They are too big for their age. The problem comes in when they don’t have the necessary genes to sustain so much muscle, and the effects can be terrible,” Walters said.
"I hear stories all the time that kids in school are taking steroids. I can’t say where they are getting them though.”