Medications issues aren't only centered on the work to create a uniform medication policy for racehorses, but on “renegade” drug manufacturers—who produce products that are not legal and contain little, none, or too much of various ingredients—and compounded drugs, which are not the same as “generic” drugs in the human market.

“People want the problem of racehorse medication solved, and the only way to accomplish that is uniform medication rules and testing standards,” said Rick Arthur, DVM, a racetrack practitioner in California and a member of the Racing Medication and Drug Testing Consortium. He reviewed the progress made in this area for the AAEP Racing Forum meeting Dec. 4. This has been a hot topic in the Thoroughbred industry since the idea of creating a national policy on race-day medication was unveiled prior to last year’s convention.

Arthur, a past president of the AAEP, said the group is operating under the basic principle that horses should not run under the influence of medications on race day with the exception of furosemide, commonly called Salix (formerly Lasix). He said there still are some areas of discussion on other race-day medications, especially ancillary medications currently used to control bleeding in some states (such as Maryland). The consortium also is operating under the assumption that one of a limited number of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as phenylbutazone [Bute]) could be used up to the day before a race, but with regulated limits that have yet to be defined, and will be conservative.

One of the important details to be resolved is whether to use threshold levels for medications or withdrawal times in regulating medications. “There are some technical and philosophical differences that still need to be sorted out,” Arthur said.

Today, 80% of drug positives on racetracks are residues of legitimate therapeutic drugs that “tripped the machine” in the testing laboratory, said Arthur. “That’s a waste of time and money that could be spent on drugs of abuse.”

The backbone for making these and other decisions, Arthur said, will be research. The consortium has almost $1 million promised by various groups for the research needed to finalize the medication policy. A committee modeled after the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation will review grant applications specifically for racing medication-related studies such as determining the pharmacokinetics of therapeutic medications or developing laboratory tests for a prohibited drug such as Epogen (EPO, a blood-building agent). Other research might be geared toward identifying new methods of detection of prohibited drugs.

Currently, research grants for medication studies take a backseat to health-related research.

“These research projects don’t do well in competitive research grant funding,” explained Arthur. “Are you going to fund research to detect EPO or improve the veterinarian’s ability to save lives?” he added rhetorically. “The racing industry needs a way to fund finding the solutions to problems specific to our industry.”

One of the priorities is to bring drug-testing science “into the light of day,” said Arthur. He said in the past, it’s been a lot of “us against them,” meaning regulators and testing labs against trainers and veterinarians. “We want to be able to show everyone why we say a (drug) level is OK or not. The system cannot be a black box. No one has respect for drug testing (as it is today), so we need to re-invent ourselves. The first step is to open the system up to scientific and public scrutiny. Laboratory accreditation must come in the future. That’s a controversial issue that is being discussed with the appropriate groups.”

Arthur said it might take a while to get a model rule that everyone agrees with and then sell it to 37 regulatory bodies in racing states. The only way it will work, he said, is if there is a system based on science and is practical, but it will be a long job.

“The amount of money spent on drug testing now is peanuts,” concluded Arthur. “And you get what you pay for.”

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More