OHSU Researchers Show Drug Education Prevents Use

04/13/00    Portland, Ore.

DHHS To Use Sports Team Education Program as National Model

A three-year study by researchers at the Oregon Health Sciences University School of Medicine shows decreased drug use and improved nutrition behaviors among male high school athletes participating in a team-centered model program. Study results are being published today in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, a publication of the American Medical Association.

The ATLAS study, Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids, is the first time a drug prevention program has been demonstrated to prevent drug use among high school students. ATLAS integrated drug, nutrition and strength training education into small-group classroom and weight-room sessions conducted by the team coaches and student volunteers. The program focused on educating football players about the effects of anabolic steroids, alcohol and illicit drugs on their athletic abilities.

"By emphasizing the impact of alcohol and other drugs on immediate sports performance rather than long-term complications, the program appeals to adolescents' focus on the here and now," said Linn Goldberg, M.D., director of the OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine. Goldberg co-authored the study with Diane Elliot, M.D., F.A.C.P., professor of medicine in the OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine.

More than 3,200 football players from 31 high schools in the Portland-Vancouver area voluntarily participated in the study. Students were asked to fill out questionnaires about their own drug use, intent to use drugs, and knowledge about nutrition and the effects of performance-enhancing substances before and after each football season, and again one year later. Fifteen schools implemented the ATLAS program and 16 schools were used as control models for comparison.

Overall, ATLAS students reported less use of alcohol, illicit drugs, anabolic steroids and athletic supplements than did students in the control groups. ATLAS students also reported higher self-esteem and greater confidence in their athletic abilities. Differences between the two groups were even more profound one year later than immediately after the football season.

Based on these study results, the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the federal Department of Health and Human Services will recommend ATLAS be used as a model program in schools across the country.

ATLAS was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, an arm of the National Institutes of Health. On Friday, April 14, Goldberg and Elliot will present their findings at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. At that conference, representatives of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Federation of High Schools and the American College of Sports Medicine will comment on the study.

Goldberg and Elliot are currently in the midst of a study aimed at the eating disorder practices and drug use of female student athletes. That study, also funded by NIDA, is called ATHENA, Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives.