Waldrop: Uniform Drug Rules Must Be Adopted

Waldrop: Uniform Drug Rules Must Be Adopted
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Alex Waldrop

The following commentary was submitted by Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and chairman of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, in advance of the April 7-9 Association of Racing Commissioners International convention in Lexington.

Recent reports concerning alleged abuse and neglect in horse racing have sparked a debate about the best way to regulate horse racing in a manner that assures the safety of humans and horses and the integrity of our sport. Criticism has come from outside and within the industry. There is justifiable skepticism about our ability to undertake and achieve meaningful uniform reform in a multifaceted state regulated industry.

Fortunately, actions undertaken over the past several years indicate that the overwhelming majority of the industry is willing to embrace reform. In fact, we are well on our way down a path that can ensure timely national implementation of the most expansive and comprehensive set of reforms in the modern history of horse racing.

More than 60 tracks, horsemen's groups, and industry organizations, including the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, have expressed their willingness to enact reform through the nationwide adoption of what is known as the Uniform National Medication Reforms. These reforms address many of the safety and integrity concerns raised by our critics and supporters alike.

In the past 12 months alone, 26 racing commissions, regulating racing in states that account for more than 80% of the pari-mutuel handle in the United States, have taken the reforms under consideration. What is needed is follow-through in the form of uniform adoption and swift implementation by state regulators.

In broad terms the reforms fall into four categories: uniform medication guidelines, a multiple medication violation penalty system, procedures to control security and access to the horse on race day, and a laboratory accreditation program that will ensure tough and uniform testing standards nationally.

The uniform medication guidelines, formally known as the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule, identify therapeutic medications that have been recognized as necessary for the treatment of illness or injury in the horse on a routine basis. For each medication, the schedule lists a uniform detection level or "threshold" at which the testing laboratory is to report a positive test.

The schedule is based upon many years of expensive, painstaking scientific research by the RMTC. Each threshold level is specifically linked to a concentration that will not affect the horse's performance. These thresholds also make it easier to detect lameness when conducting pre-race examinations.

The reforms are as much about the safety and welfare of the horse as they are about integrity. Indeed, since key portions of the reforms were implemented in New York more than a year ago, racing-related fatalities at New York Racing Association-operated racetracks have been reduced by more than 40%. The reforms will accomplish two vital objectives for long-term growth: enhance the welfare and safety of our athletes, both human and equine, and help maintain customer confidence in the integrity of our sport.

The reforms include a detailed multiple medication violation penalty system that is designed to work in a manner similar to the way states track an individual's traffic violations. The MMV system is a national plan to provide enhanced penalties for those individuals who accumulate multiple medication violations, regardless of the jurisdiction in which they occur. Nothing has undermined our enforcement efforts at the state level more than an inability to deal effectively with the repeat, multi-state offender.

The reforms require that furosemide (commonly referred to as Lasix or Salix) be administered only by third-party veterinarians or veterinary technicians. The reason for third party administration is simple: to control access to the horse on race day.

Lastly, the reforms include a laboratory accreditation and quality assurance program that requires that every state's equine drug testing laboratory must be accredited to standards set forth in the RMTC testing laboratory accreditation code of standards. The accreditation code is built upon protocols established by the World Anti-Doping Association, the gold standard in human competition. Tough new medication rules are ineffective without high-quality testing.

With states in the Mid-Atlantic region now conducting racing under the new medication rules, the industry has made noteworthy strides in each of these four areas over the past 12 months. Much work remains to be done, however.

Five states have implemented the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule in its entirety to date: Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Virginia. At least eight additional states including Arizona, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are in final stages of the regulatory process and should be added to the list soon. Three major racing states–Florida, Louisiana, and Oklahoma–are not considering adoption at this time.

Third-party administration of furosemide is under way or in the process of being established in at least 16 states including California, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The MMV penalty system was not introduced until last fall. Eight states have committed to implementation of the program including Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia, and West Virginia. Regulators in several other states have indicated they will adopt the MMV penalty system once the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule has been fully implemented in their respective jurisdictions. And we plan to hold them to it.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International national database, the required central database into which the points are reported and monitored, was up and running as of Feb. 1, 2014, and all medication violations are being assigned points as of Jan. 1, 2014. In short, the industry has begun to keep score of multistate offenders while the individual states complete their rule-making and adoption process.

Laboratories conducting testing for 25 separate racing jurisdictions have been accredited or are in the process of being fully accredited by the RMTC. Three laboratories–the University of California-Davis, HSL Sports Science, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture–have received accreditation or interim accreditation from the RMTC.  These labs conduct equine drug testing for eight racing jurisdictions: California, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Mexico, Ohio, and Virginia.

Five more laboratories conducting testing for 17 other racing states–Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming–have applied for RMTC accreditation. Seven states including Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota, and Texas currently rely on non-RMTC accredited labs for their testing. This should not be tolerated in an industry where health, safety, and integrity are at the center of all our decisions.

Taken together, all of these actions are encouraging. And coupled with recent actions like the elimination of anabolic steroids, reducing the allowable levels for the popular non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication phenylbutazone, the establishment of the Equine Injury Database, and the formation of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, the industry can point to real progress in the area of safety and integrity for our human and equine athletes.

However, we must go further and we must persuade regulators and, in some cases, state legislatures to move with a greater sense of urgency to enact the current reforms in their entirety. The reforms are interrelated and must be fully implemented to achieve the highest degree of success and address a wide range of safety and integrity issues in our sport.

Likewise, it is an unfortunate truth that the chain of integrity is only as strong as its weakest link. It will be difficult to claim nationwide uniformity if important racing states lag too far behind or choose not to participate in some of the reforms at all. This is not an acceptable situation for racing, undermines the uniform effort, and needs to be addressed. The lack of participation by some should be a cause for concern by all who support reform.

Large segments of the industry have demonstrated that they are both willing and capable of reform. They have shown all of us the way forward. It is time for everyone with a stake in the game to urge racing regulators to fully embrace and enact on a nationwide basis the Uniform National Medication Program.

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