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Olympics lead up: Talking to your kids about performance-enhancing drugs

More teens are turning to performance-enhancing drugs for sports or to try to improve their appearance. Here's how to talk to them about the risks and dangers.

Today's guest blogger is Jamie Lovell, MD, a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Fellow from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

With August quickly approaching, comes with it one of the world's most elite sporting events – the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. While there are many fascinating topics of conversation surrounding the games, one that always remains towards the top of the list is use of performance-enhancing drugs and chemicals by the athletes.

The growing evidence of unrecognized doping during the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 will put Brazil in the hot seat when it comes to ensuring an even playing field among these top athletes. Already, many members of the Russian track-and-field team have been banned from competing. Then this past week, the World Anti-Doping Agency called on the International Olympic Committee to ban all Russian teams from the Olympics following a report showing the scope and length of state-directed doping in the country. The International Olympic Committee said yesterday it will "explore the legal options" before considering a widespread ban.

Even though this year's Olympic Games are nearly five thousand miles away, we are faced with the nearby concern of use and abuse of steroids, drugs and chemicals by teenagers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a clinical report, "Use of Performance-Enhancing Substances," that highlights that more children and young adults are using these substances. Unfortunately, it is putting their health in danger.

Though the use of performance-enhancing drugs and chemicals by adolescents occurs more frequently among athletes, the AAP notes that the "use of PESs [may be] an attempt to enhance appearance rather than performance, and many users are not actively involved in organized activity." Many teenagers using performance-enhancing substances are not involved in sports and take these drugs to improve their self-image instead of sports performance.

It is important to point out that performance-enhancing substances not only includes illegal drugs, but also legal substances such as caffeine, protein supplements, and diet supplements. Protein and dietary supplements are not subject to the approval of the US Food and Drug Administration, and an analysis in 2007 revealed that 25 percent of these substances were contaminated with anabolic androgenic steroids and 11 percent were contaminated with stimulants.

Performance-enhancing substances have several dangerous effects that athletes should be aware of, including potential liver damage, stunted growth, and increased aggression. Teenagers should know that these substances do not provide significant improvements in athletic performance for the majority of athletes compared to proper training and nutrition as well as each individual's own physical maturation. Parents should be aware that many studies have found correlations between use of performance enhancers and the use of alcohol, drugs, and other risk-taking behaviors.

Sports provide an atmosphere of camaraderie, promote healthiness, and improve dedication and leadership skills. To maintain these healthy benefits, further education needs to be provided to young athletes and all adolescents regarding the use of performance-enhancing substances. Some guidelines for parents of athletes are listed below as recommended through the AAP's clinical report:

  1. Get involved – emphasize to your child the important aspects of sports include hard work, pushing your limits, teamwork, and respect

  2. Stay connected – create a partnership with your child's coach

  3. Keep an open line of communication with your child

  4. Discuss concerns of substance abuse with your child's healthcare provider

  5. Know warning signs of performance-enhancing substance abuse

Further information for parents and athletes regarding specific performance-enhancing substances and their risks can be found at the USADA website

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