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Texas will keep high school steroid-testing program

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas program that tests high school athletes for steroids has survived a round of budget cuts, though it will be trimmed for the second time in a year.

Texas agencies were ordered Tuesday to trim $1.2 billion as the state braces for a budget shortfall that could reach $18 billion. The $1 million steroids testing program had been seen as a likely target for elimination, but was instead reduced by $250,000.

Nearly 50,000 tests since February 2008 have found only about 20 confirmed cases of steroid use. A spokesman for Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who championed the program, said the testing is a deterrent.

"It's clearly the deterrent it was intended to be," Dewhurst spokesman Rich Parsons said. "If we can maintain the impact it's having and save taxpayer money, it's a win-win."

The program has been shrinking since it began in 2007 with a $3 million annual budget. In May 2009, when the small number of positive tests caused some to question whether it testing should be stopped, state lawmakers cut the program to $1 million annually.

The Texas Education Agency proposed slashing funding altogether when it was ordered to find ways to reduce its budget by 5 percent, but Dewhurst wanted it saved.

Testing is conducted by the National Center for Drug Free Sport, which also tests athletes for the NCAA. Texas athletes from all sports are eligible, but testing has been heavily concentrated toward football.

More than 700,000 athletes are eligible to be randomly selected and required to provide a urine sample to be tested. An athlete who tests positive or breaks protocol is suspended from sports for 30 school days. To regain eligibility, take another test and be clear of steroids.

Don Hooton, who started the Taylor Hooton Foundation after his son's suicide was linked to steroids, was disappointed to see the program cut. Hooton said the program is a viable deterrent only if athletes believe they'll be tested.

Every cut reduces those odds, he said.

"If Taylor was in high school, in his mind would he think that the chances were he'd get caught?" Hooton said. "If the number is not large enough, I'm not sure we're doing a lot of good."