PERFORMANCE enhancing drugs are "relatively prevalent" amongst elite athletes as young as 12, according to new research from the government's Anti-Doping Research Program.
A three-year study had researchers interview more than 900 athletes from 12 to 17.
They found "about 4%" were using either performance enhancing or image enhancing drugs.
University of Canberra associate professor in psychology Dr Stephen Moston said with drug use increasing in the past 10 years, it was time to consider increasing both testing and education for our emerging sports stars.
Dr Moston authored the report with Dr Terry Engelberg and Professor James Skinner from Queensland's Griffith University.
"There is evidence suggesting that athletes as young as 12 years of age use performance enhancing drugs, and that such use has increased in the past decade," Dr Moston said.
"This study indicates that performance enhancing drugs and supplement use (a potential precursor of doping) are now relatively prevalent amongst young elite athletes.
"Given that young athletes are rarely subject to anti-doping testing, the potential increase of drug use is largely going unchecked. Both anti-doping education and detection efforts must be expanded to incorporate such populations."
The report found young athletes though about a third of all elite athletes used drugs.
Almost 5% of the young athletes themselves have been offered performance enhancing drugs and 10% believed they were competing against athletes who used the drugs.
Dr Engleberg said many athletes and support staff did not have all the information on doping, with some believing it would not occur in their own sport.
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