A new high school football season is about to kick off, but local schools aren't ready to throw a penalty flag on a performance enhancing drug becoming more popular.
We're talking about Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators, more commonly known as SARMs. They can help athletes, but also cause serious heart problems.
College and Olympic athletes are banned from using them, but the WAAY 31 I-TEAM learned high school students in Alabama are not tested for them, although SARMs are hidden in dozens of products.
"SARMs, if are to be believed, are a way to get performance enhancement or muscle development without using 'steroids,'" said Dr. Marlin Gill. "They are banned in sporting events."
Gill said SARMs are often marketed as 'legal steroids.' In 2017, the Food and Drug Administration warned the performance enhancing drug isn't approved for human usage.
"One of the football players for Clemson got banned for the use of Ostarine, so there are some pretty good studies that show muscle gains and athletic performance," said Gill.
The drug comes in a variety of names from Ostarine to Enobosarm. In total, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said there are 72 products using SARMs and in many cases, the product isn't listed on the label.
According to the NCAA, drug tests busted 30 college students for using SARMs in 2018. That's nearly double the number from the year before.
Florence City Schools Athletic Director Byron Graham researched the drug and said he's concerned with the growing trend.
"It could be easily fooled to kids," said Graham. "If you get something like SARMs out there hidden in some other supplements, you really wouldn't know if your having that or taking that and if kids are taking that, it could have long term effects on them."
The FDA said SARMs can cause serious health complications such as heart attacks or stroke, but knowing someone is taking SARMs is hard to determine without a drug test.
"It doesn't have some of the side effects with kids acting different, but it does have effects on the liver and other things as well," said Graham.
Graham said the Alabama High School Athletic Association doesn't require schools to test for steroids, never mind advanced drugs such as SARMs. School districts can test for them, but choose not to because each test could cost up to $150. Graham said a lot of his high school students don't even know about SARMs.
"It's not something that's really popular out there right now. If you talk about just old supplements like Creatine and things of that nature, they know about that, but SARMs is just one of those things that's still under the radar," said Graham.
Graham said educating student athletes about the dangers of performance enhancing drugs is something they focus on.
"You want honest athletes and everything they have is their natural given abilities, so you don't want anything that's going to enhance them or have a long-term effect on them at the same time," said Graham.
Graham urges parents to talk with their kids, too. In 2018, Congress attempted to make distributing SARMs without proper labeling a felony. It failed.