Teens are trying performance-enhancing drugs at a staggering rate, according to a new national study.
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids says more than twice the amount of teens experimented with human growth hormones, HGH, without a prescription in 2013 than during each of the previous four years before.
Like most teens, high school sophomores Sam Walters and Casey Carr balance a few sports, schoolwork and play. For a bit of exercise Friday, they tried tightrope walking. However, they know other athletes their age are trying something much more dangerous.
"Drugs," said Walters. "So, they can perform faster and better than they normally would."
Specifically, they're trying steroids and HGH.
"People will talk about at like other schools people say, 'Oh, so-and-so is doing something,'" said Walters.
A confidential survey by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids found that in 2013, 11 percent of high school kids reported using synthetic HGH at least once.
Between 2009 and 2012, that number was just five percent, and the sharp increase scares coaches like Nelson Stewart.
"When you see a study with that many kids looking at it, it's pretty scary, and as coaches, we need to step in and start educating these kids and say, 'look, you're not just affecting yourself now, but when you're increasing your hormone levels at that age, the effects long-term I think can just be catastrophic," said Stewart, the head football coach at Isidore Newman School.
Unnaturally fast muscle gain is one of the obvious signs. The problem is, Stewart said, a simple urine test won't do. To find the higher levels of HGH, they'd have to do blood tests.
"It's not as easy to test for, but I think just like in the NFL these are things we're going to have to look at now. That's the next level of it for us. You have to look at are you willing to do that. As we go, some athletic directors are going to be put in that situation," said Stewart.
Meanwhile, Stewart said one of the biggest problems is accessibility. A simple search for HGH reveals many websites to buy from.
However, kids don't always know what they're buying, and many of the drugs can turn out to be fake.
"I think it's scary because with the Internet kids can go online read about things, get it sent to their house even, and that's where we really need the help of parents because they are still young and they're still growing," said Stewart.
Sam Walter's dad said more information always helps.
"By making people more exposed, making people more aware, making sure we're trying to learn as much as we possibly can, that's the only way I can be a better parent," said Peter Walters.
With the information they have, the two teens agreed they'd keep their bodies drug-free and their exercises slow and steady.
"I think that if you really can't do it yourself than you're not strong enough in character to actually be doing it in the first place," said 16-year-old Casey Carr.
The study found that steroid use increased from 5 percent to 7 percent in 2013.
However, because HGH can be less intrusive than steroids and doesn't have to be injected, Stewart and other coaches worry that without immediate intervention the sharp rise in the number of kids experimenting with it will only continue.