Testing For Clenbuterol Intensifies

As drug-testing laboratories have begun to use enhanced testing procedures to detect the prohibited drug clenbuterol, horses in three states have tested positive for the bronchodilator. The three states in which the positive tests have been found are New York, New Jersey, and Maryland.

Used to aid horses with breathing problems, clenbuterol was banned for any use in the United States until May 11 of this year, when the Food and Drug Administration approved clenbuterol for use in horses through the product Ventipulmin syrup. Previously, clenbuterol was legal in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Although it has been approved for use in horses by the FDA, clenbuterol is still considered a Class 3 drug and is prohibited for use in horses on race day. Horses testing positive for the drug face regulatory sanctions, including the forfeiture of any purses earned, and the horse's trainer faces disciplinary action.

In addition to the states where Thoroughbreds or Standardbreds have tested positive for clenbuterol, there are unconfirmed reports that tests in other states have also shown horses with the drug in their systems.

Dr. George Maylin, director of the Equine Drug Testing Laboratory at New York's Cornell University, said there have recently been five instances in which clenbuterol was detected in urine samples taken from equine competitors.

Stephanie Donato, a spokesperson for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, said the presence of clenbuterol in at least one of the samples has been confirmed by the laboratory at Ohio State University, among the labs where split samples are sent for verification. Donato said that case and those involving two other clenbuterol detections are in the judicial process. The names of the trainers will not be released until the positive tests have been confirmed by split sample.

Tom Lomangino, director of the Maryland state equine drug-testing laboratory, said that state's racing commission is reviewing the clenbuterol positive from a sample taken from a Standardbred horse.

Meanwhile, regulators in California have denied reports that clenbuterol has been detected in a large number of horses tested there.

Referring to "the numbers of the complaints and the quality of the people who were making them" regarding the rumored widespread use of clenbuterol, California Horse Racing Board executive secretary Roy Wood has announced new post-race drug testing procedures designed to detect the low-level presence of the substance.

"We did receive a lot of comments--from horsemen, from trainers, from owners, from patrons, from members of the industry--about some perceptions about what may or may not be going on as relates to the product clenbuterol," Wood acknowledged.

Wood said that every post-race urine sample taken at California tracks would be screened with increased sensitivity for clenbuterol, but for no other substance. The testing procedure was recently acquired by Truesdail Laboratories, the primary California testing facility, in cooperation with Maylin.

"We welcome this," said John Van de Kamp, president of Thoroughbred Owners of California. "These nasty rumors have to be put to rest. It is important to draw a bright line to discourage and, if there are positives, penalize with large fines."

The heightened sensitivity of the clenbuterol tests measures the presence of the drug to the level of picograms--one-trillionth of a gram per milliliter of urine. Wood emphasized that the test was specific for clenbuterol and that no other substances would be tested to such low levels.

"If, in fact, clenbuterol was in use as speculated, we know the test will determine that," Wood said.

Wood strongly denied that there were previous Truesdail urine tests found to be positive for clenbuterol that were not being reported. "As of today we have not received any positive reports for a finding of clenbuterol," Wood replied. "There were no hits that were unconfirmable, marginal, suspect, or anything like that."

At the same time, Wood noted, the CHRB would continue to heighten its backstretch surveillance with investigative staff, although no increase in manpower was anticipated.

"Using the available people we have--adjusting schedules and calling on those in between assignments--we've had our stewards, our associate stewards and some of our investigators be more observant on the backside and be more of a presence on the backside during the racing program," Wood said.

Wood added that the recent FDA approval of clenbuterol for equine use in Ventipulmin will make no difference in the CHRB's "zero tolerance" policy regarding clenbuterol in all post-race samples.

Lomangino and Maylin said clenbuterol had resurfaced within North American racing because of the inability by labs to test for the drug when it is administered other than through an oral dose.

Clenbuterol surfaced as a problem in the early 1980s, but revised drug-testing methods led to the detection and penalties taken against the horses and trainers, according to Lomangino. Lomangino said drug tests are based on the amount of the substance and the way in which it was administered.

The latest cases apparently stem from trainers and/or veterinarians using other means to administer the drug, such as an aerosol or tracheal injection, according to Lomangino. He said the ability to now detect the drug is the result of the laboratories to alter testing methods.

One of the new more sensitive tests was devised by Maylin and the other by Dr. Rick Sams at Ohio State University.

Maylin's test has been made available to those labs and state racing commissions that are members of the Interstate Drug Testing Research Program. Sams' test has been distributed to states that belong to Testing Integrity Program. IDTRP and TIP are quality-control programs that monitor the efficiency of labs and assist the labs in developing new techniques for testing.

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