Calling anabolic steroids a "severe potential threat to the well-being of our students," Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane said yesterday that the use of the muscle-building drug by athletes and other students will not be tolerated.

In a meeting with about 250 Fairfax coaches, trainers, athletic directors and school officials at Lake Braddock Secondary School, Spillane said there is "ample evidence" that use of steroids is "a new kind of substance abuse {that} has become increasingly common among our students." He added that "You must be our first line of defense."

Deputy Superintendent Doris Torrice, also at the meeting, called on coaches at the school system's 23 high schools to meet with student athletes and educate them about the dangers of steroids and inform them that they will be disciplined for the possession, use or distribution of the drug.

Steroids are natural or synthetic male hormone derivatives prescribed for limited medical purposes, but which are commonly used by athletes and body builders to add bulk to their muscles.

Research has shown that the drug can cause long-term side effects, including kidney and liver malfunctions, cancer, acne, sleeplessness, mania, aggressive behavior and other psychological disorders.

In recent interviews, coaches, students, parents, school and health officials said they believe steroid use is not prevalent in county high schools. Some said they knew of isolated cases where athletes and other students interested in improving their physiques used steroids. Most, however, said their main concern is educating students about the dangers of the drug to prevent its use from becoming widespread.

"We have singled this out as a concern, and frankly not because we think we have a rampant problem, but because there's the potential for that," Spillane said after the meeting.

Dennis Nolan, head of the school system's substance abuse program, said officials are uncertain how many students have used steroids but believe the number is small. He said he knows of only three students in the last five years who have used them, but added that monitoring steroid use is difficult because there are no outward signs that someone is on the drug.

"We don't have a handle on it, and it's important that if we err, we err on the side of caution."

Two weeks ago, The Fairfax Journal published a three-part series on steroid use in Northern Virginia high schools, claiming that more than half of the 32 public and private school head football coaches in Northern Virginia said they had current or former players who had used steroids.

Spillane said yesterday that there is no evidence that coaches have condoned or encouraged the use of steroids. He said he believes that those students who used the drug probably obtained it from people they exercise with at local athletic clubs, a theory supported by two coaches who spoke at the meeting.

The sale of steroids is a misdemeanor, punishable by a $100 fine.

Some high school athletes interviewed this week suggested that some students who are not on teams might be using steroids for body building and to attact girls rather than to get in shape for competitive sports. The athletes said that they are aware of the adverse affects of steroids.

"We've heard of kids who use them, but the percentage is not that high," said W.T. Woodson football player Shawn Miller.

The president of the McLean High School PTA, Don Blom, whose two sons played varsity football, said he thinks steroid use among high school athletes has decreased over the years.

"When my older son played, there were probably a lot more underground steriods because people were not aware of the medical implications," he said.

"No one seems to know what the extent of the problem is," said Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), who introduced legislation in the General Assembly to increase penalties for distributing steroids to minors to $1,000 or a year in jail.

--------------------STEROIDS------------------

Anabolic steroids are male hormone derivatives, both natural and synthetic, that change the metabolism of muscles.

Steroids add bulk to the body and increase strength, speed and power.

Some research shows the drugs can have long-term side effects, such as kidney and liver malfunctions, cancer, acne, sleeplessness, mania, hypertension, impotence in men and menstrual irregularities in women.

Users of steroids often exhibit aggressive behavior and experience swelling of the feet and lower legs, as well as skin blotches.