Broken Arrow legislator to propose drug testing for college, grade school athletes
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Friday, July 22, 2011
7/22/11 at 7:39 AM
Read more about what drugs and procedures are banned under the NCAA drug policy.
A Broken Arrow legislator says he plans to file legislation to require drug testing of student athletes at all public schools - from grade school through college.
Rep. Mike Ritze said the recent death of University of Oklahoma football player Austin Box led to his proposal.
The tests should cover illegal drugs and drugs banned by the NCAA, the Broken Arrow Republican said.
Ritze, a former deputy medical examiner, is a physician with a master's degree in forensic science.
"We've got to get a handle on it. We've got to find out where the problems exist," he said. "If we're not screening (athletes) properly, then they need to be screened, and we need to know about it."
Although Ritze said his plan was motivated by Box's death, the drugs linked to the OU football player's death aren't covered by NCAA drug rules.
A preliminary toxicology report released July 19 by the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office shows that Box died from an accidental overdose of drugs, including the painkillers oxycodone, morphine, oxymorphone, hydrocodone and hydromorphone. The anti-anxiety drug alprazolam was also present.
NCAA rules require testing for several classes of banned drugs, including stimulants, performance-enhancing drugs and street drugs, which are defined narrowly to include heroin, marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol, the intoxicant in marijuana. Painkillers aren't addressed in the NCAA rules.
University of Oklahoma Associate Athletic Director Kenny Mossman said the school already randomly drug tests its student athletes and that the tests would have picked up on the drugs linked to Box's death if he had been using them before he was tested.
Every OU athlete is tested at least one time during his or her sport's season, and it is not unusual for any one student to be tested more than once during a season, he said. At least 20 percent of the athletes are tested out of season during the school year, he said.
But Mossman said drug testing is good only for the time the athlete is tested. If the athlete uses drugs the day after the test, that can't be detected.
"Without testing them daily, no test would detect that," he said.
Calls to Oklahoma State University's Athletic Department were referred to team physician Val Gene Iven, who didn't immediately return phone calls.
Some public school districts are already testing athletes for street drugs, but others say the potential cost of a drug-testing program is prohibitive.
Tara Thompson, a spokeswoman for Broken Arrow Public Schools, said students in competitive athletics from seventh grade up are tested for a range of drugs, including all street drugs, as part of their preseason physicals.
Parents are charged $15 for the testing, although the district has a policy of waiving the fee if it would be a hardship on the family.
The fee also pays for random voluntary testing during the athletic season, Thompson said. About 85 percent of parents allow their children to be tested under the voluntary program, she said.
If the NCAA rules were applied to the state's public schools, they also would have to test for steroids, which is very expensive. Because of the expenses involved, Broken Arrow doesn't test for steroids randomly, but school officials can require steroid testing of any student they suspect, Thompson said.
Texas recently cut back severely its statewide high school sports steroid-testing program - which cost about $6 million per year - to cover only a few sports, The Associated Press reported earlier this year. After more than 50,000 tests, the program confirmed fewer than 30 steroid users.
Tulsa Public Schools does not test its athletes for drugs.
Superintendent Keith Ballard said, "While I think it's a good idea, how are they going to pay for it when they can't even meet minimum obligations?"
With 87.5 percent of the students in the district participating in the free and reduced-price lunch program - meaning they live in poverty - the district can't just push drug testing costs on parents.
"I assure you it would be very difficult for the parents to pick that up," Ballard said.
It would be a shame to deny students the opportunity to participate in athletics because they can't afford the drug tests, he said, adding that athletics can be a powerful motivation for keeping students from dropping out of school.
The mandate would be a burden on small school districts, Pawhuska Superintendent Ben West said.
The district drug tests its bus drivers but not its students, he said.
"We've looked at it, and for a small rural school district like ours that's losing students every year and losing state aid every year, it's difficult for us to afford something like that," West said.
Some 77 percent of Pawhuska's students are on the free and reduced-price lunch program, so parents wouldn't be able to pick up the costs, he said.
"If the state's going to pay for it, great. I'm all for it," West said. "But if the local district has to pay for it, like we do everything else, ... I'd rather buy books and technology equipment than pay for drug testing."
What substances are banned by the NCAA?
No list of specific drugs banned by the NCAA exists. Rather, eight classes of drugs are banned:
Any substance chemically related to those classes also is banned.
- Anabolic agents
- Alcohol and beta blockers (banned for rifle only)
- Diuretics and other masking agents
- Street drugs
- Peptide hormones and analogues
- Beta-2 agonists
Athletes and their schools are held responsible for all drugs within each class, whether they are specifically identified or not.
The NCAA defines street drugs narrowly: heroin, marijuana and tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
Other drugs and procedures - including very high levels of caffeine - also are subject to restrictions by the NCAA.
Original Print Headline: Drug-testing plan proposed
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Rep. Mike Ritze: He said the recent death of University of Oklahoma football player Austin Box led to his proposal.