FEI Proposes Prohibited Substances List Modification

Some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) at low therapeutic levels might be helpful for horses with inflammation between competitions, so clearer and more current information is needed about detection times for anti-doping testing, according to a Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) committee. This committee--the FEI List Group--maintains the official list of controlled and prohibited substances for the organization.

The FEI List Group publicly announced over the weekend its recommendation that more research be carried out to determine the exact amount of time low doses of phenylbutazone(Bute) and flunixin are detectable in a horse's blood. With this knowledge competitors can feel confident about treating their horses therapeutically after and between competitions, without fearing disqualification from an upcoming event, said the group's chair, John McEwen, BVMS, MRCVS, who is also the FEI Veterinary Committee chair and the team veterinarian for the British Equestrian Federation.

However, the recommendation does not change the status of phenylbutazone and flunixin as "Controlled Medications" on the official FEI Prohibited Substances List, adopted April 5 in conjunction with the new Equine Anti-Doping and Controlled Medication Regulations. McEwen said all NSAID drugs should continue to be prohibited during competitions, and drug testing for these substances should go on as before. The FEI does not currently prohibit the use of NSAIDs between competitions, provided they are no longer detectable at competition testing, and the new recommendation does not change this.

"What we're recommending is practical guidance and support, with clear, accurate, modern levels available," he said. "This will empower those who have the horses' care in their hands to access information that is reliable, to allow them to treat with NSAIDs between competitions.

"We also, in a second step, need to look at detection times of the COX-2s, the new generation of NSAIDS," he added. "I believe we will find them to have an even shorter detection time."

The FEI has already published detection times for NSAIDs, but these times are based on much higher dosage levels than what are being recommended for common clinical use, and they don't include COX-2 inhibitors, McEwen said. "We need to be targeting those short-term levels between competitions," he said.

The List Group's recommendation on NSAID use closely follows the unprecedented NSAID congress Aug. 16-17, where scientists, veterinarians, competitors, and national federation leaders met to discuss and debate the issue in Lausanne, Switzerland. Despite some research presented at the congress that supported the safe use of NSAIDs in competition, the List Group was not convinced by these arguments, McEwen said. "There wasn’t enough scientific evidence to show that non-steroidals could be used during competition while still respecting the welfare and performance criteria we had established," he noted. "Our group was unanimous on that point."

A major concern of the group is the use of NSAIDs to mask lameness, he said. Hence, even though it's the same medication, an NSAID is a greater threat to horse welfare during competition than between competitions because of the reasons it might be administered.

Canadian Equestrian Federation president Mike Gallagher, who co-led the congress's organized debate in favor of NSAID use in competitions, said he is satisfied with the recommendation. "This is a good compromise," he said. "We needed to find a solution that the vast majority could support, without dividing the member countries over it. It’s a huge step forward because it acknowledges that there is a place for these medications therapeutically, that they do have an important veterinary application and are in the best interest of the horse."

The proposal from the List Group also includes proposed changes concerning substances that are not NSAIDs, McEwen said. Members of the List Group--scientists specializing in sports medicine, pharmacology, and related fields--study the existing list and hear arguments from the federations and the FEI in order to make annual proposals about necessary changes. Full details of their recommendations this year have been presented to all national federations worldwide for their consideration.

Representatives from these federations will vote on the proposed changes during the General Assembly of the FEI, to be held in Chinese Tapei in November.

McEwen said new low-level detection times could probably be available within three months.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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