Many parents know their teenage children use anabolic steroids and even encourage them to take the drug to win athletic scholarships, a Ball State University researcher says.

Dr. David Pearson of Ball State's Human Performance Laboratory, who studies the effects of steroids on athletes, said a report in the current "Journal of the American Medical Association," that up to 500,000 American high school students may be using steroids sounds accurate."From our own knowledge of what's going on, I would say those figures aren't inflated at all," Pearson said.

"We have a very high percentage of high-school steroid use right here in Middletown, USA. The drug has been very, very highly used in Indiana. We've even had parents call us and ask if it would be OK for their kids to take steroids."

Even parents who would oppose use of steroids by their children perpetuate the drugs' use by being blind to obvious side effects the teenagers may show, Pearson said.

"Parents should know it's not common for their son to gain 30 pounds," he said, adding that weight gain and acne are very pronounced in teenagers who use steroids. Mood swings are also a problem. A teenager asking for a lot of extra money is another danger signal, Pearson said.

Since September, it has been a felony in Indiana to possess anabolic steroids without proof of medical need. Users would have to obtain the drugs on the black market.

Medical need is narrowly defined, Pearson said. The drugs may be prescribed for rare blood disorders and dwarfism. By law, doctors are no longer allowed to dispense steroids to increase muscle mass or enhance athletic performance.

"A lot of kids see steroids as a shortcut to an athletic scholarship," Pearson said.

But those same athletes, he said, rarely think about possible side effects like sterility, high blood pressure and cancer of the liver and testicles.

Human Performance Laboratory studies have shown a greatly increased risk of heart disease in users who have family histories of heart disease, Pearson said. Heart damage caused by steroids is irreversible, he added.