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Teen use of human growth hormones on the rise

The number of U.S. teens taking non-prescribed HGH to boost athletic abilities or enhance their looks has more than doubled in the last four years.
The number of U.S. teens taking non-prescribed HGH to boost athletic abilities or enhance their looks has more than doubled in the last four years.
Stock.Xchang/Edwin P.

A survey published in a July 23 news release found that use of non-prescription synthetic human growth hormones (HGH) among teens is rising an alarming rate as they turn to these drugs to enhance their athletic abilities and improve their looks . The report, conducted by the Partnership for Drug-free Kids, is based on a confidential survey of 3,705 high school students.

Survey results showed that teens’ use of human growth hormones has more than doubled over the last five years. Of the study participants, 11 percent reported using HGH at least once – up from about 5 percent in the four preceding annual surveys. In addition, teen use of steroids increased from 5 percent to 7 percent over the same time period.

The researchers found that both boys (12 percent) and girls (9 percent) are using HGH without a prescription. Awareness of online marketing of HGH and steroids among both sexes rose from 17 percent in 2012 to 22 percent in 2013. This easy access to the drugs and teens’ lack of information about the risks associated with these supplements are deeply troubling to healthcare professionals.

Human growth hormone occurs naturally in the body. Its primary function is to stimulate growth and cell production in children and adolescents, while helping to regulate body composition, muscle and bone growth. Prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) HGH are considered safe for such uses as treatment for muscle deterioration due to HIV/AIDS and long-term treatment for children of short stature.

At issue are the health risks to teens who take non-prescribed performance-enhancing drugs and the dangers associated with unregulated synthetic supplements purchased in stores or online.

“These are not products that assure safety and efficacy. Prescription and over-the-counter medicines must go through rigorous testing to be proven safe before being sold to the public, but supplement products appear on store shelves without regulation from the Food and Drug Administration and must actually be proven unsafe before being removed from sale,” Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, said in the news release.

For teens who see HGH – which can be injected or taken orally – as a way to increase their athletic abilities or enhance their looks, the risks far outweigh the rewards. Not only do they not know what they are putting into their bodies, they are putting themselves at risk of muscle or joint pain, fluid retention, and numbness or tingling of the skin. More serious side-effects are also possible, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and growth of cancerous tumors.

Because the supplement industry is unregulated, and given the vast number of products being marketed and available online, the survey researchers see an urgent need for tighter regulation and more accurate labeling of “fitness-enhancing” over-the-counter products implying they contain HGH.

“The implication for parents, healthcare professionals, policy makers and regulators is that this is an area of apparently growing interest, involvement and potential danger to teens that calls for serious evaluation of the areas in which current controls on manufacturing and marketing are failing to prevent the use of these products by teens,” said Pasierb.

Pasierb also urged parents to talk to their children about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs. “It’s not about illegality, or whether you’re a good parent,” he told Associated Press. “It’s a health issue. These substances literally alter your body.”