(CNSNews.com) - On the verge of leaving office, New Jersey Acting Gov. Richard Codey has ordered that high school athletes in the state will have to undergo random drug testing for steroids in the 2006 school year.
While the news was cheered by some people, others are concerned that the tests will have to be funded by residents who already feel overtaxed and are saddled with a multi-billion-dollar state budget deficit.
"We've all seen the statistics and read the articles about the impact that steroids are having on kids. This is a growing public health threat, one we can't leave up to individual parents, coaches or schools," said Codey while announcing the first-of-its-kind measure in the nation. "Kids don't think 10 years down the road, when that steroid use can lead to a heart attack, liver cancer, diabetes," he added.
The majority of high school coaches in the state approve of Codey's plan, according to the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. Steroid and performance-enhancing drug use has been on the rise by young athletes attempting to improve their level of play. Where these types of drugs were once used by professional athletes, in recent years, they have filtered down to collegiate and high school levels.
According to statistics from the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 3.4 percent of high school seniors nationwide, 2.4 percent of 10th graders and 1.9 percent of eight graders said they have tried anabolic steroids at least once.
Earlier in the year, Codey formed a special task force to look into steroid use among teenagers. Included in the findings was a recommendation for specific drug testing for steroids.
As for any potential legal challenge, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) appears resigned to accepting Codey's order.
"In the past, the courts have upheld the right of schools to test athletes for performance-enhancing drugs. Under certain conditions, a legal challenge is unlikely," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey.
Although Codey signed the executive order this week, it does not mention whether the testing will be mandatory or voluntary, and although there are penalties for offenders, there are no guidelines for treatment. There is also no plan in place to pay for the program or any treatment. It is expected that taxpayers will have to foot the bill.
"We're talking here about the health and well-being of our children. Keeping drugs away from our kids is a priority, and I believe random steroid testing for student athletes would be a strong deterrent. But with a state swimming in billions of dollars in red ink, whether I support the measure or not, the fiscally responsible approach our acting governor should have taken is one that does not add more financial hardship to state residents," said Joseph Locricchio, deputy mayor of Manalapan Township and father of two school-age children.
Quest Diagnostics, one of the largest testing facilities in the state, indicates that testing for steroid use ranges from $75 to $150. Codey believes that the overall cost to test students will be about $50,000 per year, money that will apparently come from deficit-strapped state coffers.
On Tuesday, telephone callers to the WKXW-FM radio program, "Late Nights with Tommy G," overwhelmingly supported Codey's measure. But they drew the line at testing students who were not athletes.
"I support the measure for athletes, but my guess is the odds some kid who is a member of the backgammon club is using steroids to enhance board game skills is quite low," said one caller to the show.
Other callers were unhappy that taxpayers would be paying for the testing, especially in light of their already heavy tax burden.
The steroid testing order is one of the final edicts handed down by Codey, who will soon cede the office to Gov.-Elect Jon Corzine.
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