Salt Lake City Student-Athletes Turning Away From Drugs Thanks to OHSU Prevention Program

03/06/02    SALT LAKE CITY. UT

Early results show ATLAS program is preventing drug use in Salt Lake City high schools

As the glimmer of Olympic gold has just faded from the Salt Lake City landscape, students in Salt Lake City schools are picking up on the virtues of clean sportsmanship.

Preliminary sample results from a program aimed at reducing substance abuse among male high school athletes show nearly three-fourths of the students are less likely to use illegal drugs than before the program began, and more than 50 percent have a decreased desire to try anabolic steroids. Most student-athletes reported they were better able to turn down offers of steroids, alcohol and drugs, and less likely to ride with a driver who was drinking and driving. Furthermore, student-athletes recorded improved nutrition habits and 70 percent believed the program made them a better athlete.

"This is great news coming on the heels of the Olympics," said Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson. "Not only are our kids interested in becoming better athletes, but they want to do it the right way."

The program responsible for this turnaround is Athletes Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids (ATLAS), a coach- and peer-led program developed by Olympic-certified drug testing experts Linn Goldberg, M.D., and Diane Elliot, M.D., at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore. ATLAS was initiated in all Salt Lake City School District high schools last fall.

"Our young people and our taxpayers deserve drug-prevention programs that really work," said Anderson. "These results show what can happen when you implement programs with a proven track record of success. ATLAS is making a difference, giving our young people brighter futures and, perhaps, saving lives."

ATLAS is a team-based program, which uses coaches and student leaders to conduct weekly sessions to address the effects of anabolic steroids, alcohol and illicit drugs on athletic achievement. The program also emphasizes sports nutrition and strength-training alternatives to steroid use.

Officials from the OHSU Division of Health Promotion and Sports Medicine traveled to Salt Lake City to train students and coaches at the beginning of the program. Each semester, OHSU researchers will review questionnaires that track students' answers to questions about their use, propensity to use, and attitudes toward alcohol, drugs and steroids.

Success of an ATLAS program in Portland led the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to name ATLAS an exemplary program and make it available to schools nationwide. The program in Salt Lake City is being funded by the federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a component of the National Institutes of Health.

"We found through years of research that young people respond best to positive messages from their peers and people they trust, like their coaches," said ATLAS creator Goldberg. "Given good information and the chance to discuss the issue of drugs and steroids with their teammates, students become less likely to be swayed by others to use drugs."

The Salt Lake City School District will implement a separate OHSU-developed program, Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives (ATHENA) to reduce drug use and eating disorders in female athletes later this spring.

ATLAS also has been instituted in Lexington, Mass. and will be introduced later this year in school districts near Honolulu, Hawaii and throughout Arkansas.

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