Texas to Ax Much-Praised Steroid Testing Program?

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Byline: Jim Vertuno Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas -- When Texas began testing tens of thousands of high school athletes for steroids, the goal was to stop teens from taking dangerous performance-enhancing drugs. The death of a 17-year-old baseball player in a Dallas suburb had drawn national attention to the hazard.

But that program could now be axed to save money. Tough economic times are prompting the state along with school districts across the country to pull back from steroid testing just a few years after a series of scandals in professional and amateur sports.

"When steroids was all over the media, everybody said 'We've got to have it,'" said Chris Franz of Sport Safe, an Ohio-based company that conducts recreational drug and steroid testing for hundreds of high schools and districts across the country.

In 2008, Texas became the third state to begin steroid testing, setting up a massive $6 million program. Every one of the state's 700,000-plus public school athletes -- from freshmen female tennis players to senior offensive linemen in football -- were eligible to be randomly selected, pulled from class and required to submit a urine sample.

But after the first 50,000 tests produced fewer than two dozen confirmed cases, critics derided the effort as a waste of money. This month, with the state facing a projected $15 billion budget shortfall, the House's first draft budget eliminated the program's money. A Senate draft still includes funding.

Even some one-time supporters of screening are wavering. "We accomplished our goal," said state Rep. Dan Flynn, "and that was to educate and create a deterrent."

New Jersey and Illinois also have statewide programs. Florida eliminated its small testing program in 2009. …