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Steroid Testing Like A Speed Trap?

In the course of reporting on random testing of high school students for steroids, one analogy came up time and time again: Random drug testing is to steroid use as radar guns are to speeding.

"Adolescents, if you tell them speeding is dangerous, they're still going to speed. If you tell them about the cop around the corner with the radar gun, hopefully they slow down. It's the fear of being caught," Bob Baly, assistant director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, told the AP.

Kurt Gibson, assistant executive director of the Illinois High School Association, essentially oversees Illinois' testing program. Though Illinois testing returned no confirmed positives, the state is expanding its program, and Gibson says the schools are very happy with it. He resisted the suggestion that there was another interpretation of zero positives aside from the testing being a deterrent.

Using the radar gun analogy regarding Illinois' zero positives, couldn't some argue that the radar gun might be broken?

"Maybe," Gibson answered, "but we would take the position that by putting a speed limit sign out there, that's enough of a threat to let people know where the bar is where the limit is that they'll make the right choice and drive within the confines of that."

Linn Goldberg of Oregon Health & Science University has studied random steroid testing programs and found that the kind that are currently in place are ineffective. He likens some random steroid-testing programs that test athletes during the playoffs to speed traps.

"It's like advertising that you have a cop with a radar gun between 5th Street and 20th Street, and you've also advertised that [at] no place else will there be a radar gun," Goldberg says. "What you're doing is really an IQ test, telling people when they will test and under what conditions they will test. So it's not random, it's not unannounced, it's not at any time."

The problem with a good analogy is that it's just an analogy. Speeding and steroids kill. Speeding and steroids are both unlawful. But while speeders are pulled over every day, the random steroid user has proved much more elusive.

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Mike Pesca
Mike Pesca first reached the airwaves as a 10-year-old caller to a New York Jets-themed radio show and has since been able to parlay his interests in sports coverage as a National Desk correspondent for NPR based in New York City.