Kentucky Protocol Would Target Emerging Drugs

Measures would expedite process in creating tests for latest illegal substances.

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council will recommend measures to allow the state to more quickly take action when regulators become aware of emerging illegal substances.

On June 10 the KEDRC approved for recommendation to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission a "Rapid Response" protocol that will readily provide the state's testing facility, HFL Sport Science, funds to research the use of reported new illegal substances and develop testing for such substances.

If the KHRC approves the recommendation, as part of the protocol HFL Sport Science will receive up to $250,000 annually to spend on such research. The EDRC is an advisory panel on medication issues for the KHRC.

"It just makes us more nimble in protecting our horsemen who are following the rules," said Dr. Mary Scollay, KHRC equine medical director.

When considering the new protocol, Scollay outlined the situation in which reputable sources were reporting that "frog juice," or dermorphin, was an emerging concern last year in racing. Scollay said it would take months to go through the current protocol to put HFL Sport Science in a position to develop a test for an emerging illegal drug like dermorphin.

Scollay said Kentucky regulators were hearing about dermorphin as early as February 2012. But in Kentucky final approval wasn't granted for HFL to begin to develop a test for the substance until July because of the requirements currently in place. By that time, other states already had taken the lead on identifying and testing for dermorphin.

Under the new protocol, funding will be set aside for HFL to take more immediate action in such situations, in concert with the KHRC equine medical director, KEDRC chairman (currently Dr. Jerry Yon), KHRC executive director (currently John Ward), and KHRC chairman (currently Robert Beck Jr.).

Emerging threats will be reported to the equine medical director, who will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine the relative threat in Kentucky. She will work with HFL at this stage and will inform the KEDRC chairman and KHRC executive director of the investigation.

HFL Sport Science will work to identify the drug and develop a test for it. For instance, if the drug is available, research horses could be administered the drug on an experimental basis to see how it acts and develop a test. HFL director Dr. Rick Sams said the new protocol will give the lab a chance to halt emerging illegal drugs.

"You can't hope to keep up with the program set up the way it is," Sams said. "The structure is fine for assuring the legitimacy and integrity of conventional research proposals. But if you're dealing with emerging threats and responding to them, that long, drawn-out process is going to leave you behind every time."

As the lab develops tests for an emerging drug, the process will not be publicized. Scollay said this protocol aims to eliminate the time cheaters have to curtail use or adjust their practices before discovery.

KEDRC member Ned Bonnie, who also serves on the KHRC, said the current system is effective at testing for already known drugs but comes up short when new illegal substances arrive on the scene. He said the new protocol begins to address that shortfall.

"It's not only innovative but it's badly needed," Bonnie said. "When new drugs come on the scene, they create bad publicity, give cheaters an unfair advantage, and create the perception that we're (regulators) not doing our job."

KEDRC member Damon Thayer said that because the program targets emerging drugs, rather than people, and its financing is up for review on a year-to-year basis, he is confident there are enough checks in place to reduce opportunity for abuse.

The recommendation passed unanimously.

Also at the June meeting, the KEDRC decided to recommend Scollay represent the KHRC on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and on its finance committee. The finance committee position on the industry organization that tackles medication and testing issues carries with it a $15,000 fee.

That fee prevented unanimous approval as KEDRC member Rick Hiles, president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said that he approves of Scollay representing Kentucky on the RMTC board but does not approve paying a $15,000 fee to the RMTC.

Scollay said it provides Kentucky a chance to be a leader and stay on top of emerging concerns.

"It's a unique opportunity for Kentucky," said Scollay, who noted that no other regulatory body is currently represented on the RMTC board. "I think it's a feather in Kentucky's cap."