Corticosteroid Use Discussed at CE Program

Injections are overused but not linked to breakdowns, a medication consultant said.

Corticosteroid injections are overused on racehorses but don't contribute to catastrophic breakdowns, a medication consultant said during a continuing education program for licensed Thoroughbred horsemen in Indiana.

The CE program is required for 2013 licensing under an Indiana Horse Racing Commission regulation. More than 70 horsemen attended the three-hour program held June 27 at Indiana Downs.

Dr. Scot Waterman, a consultant on equine medication policy who formerly served as executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said research into the more popular corticosteroids--Betamethosone, Dexamethasone, Methylprednisolone, and Triamicinalone--is ongoing. The objective is to determine uniform withdrawal times for the therapeutic drugs.

Waterman said injections of corticosteroids, which are used to treat joint inflammation, often are given to close to races, and repeated injections can impact the health of horses' joints. But he said there isn't evidence the drugs can lead to breakdowns.

"That's the perception, but these things aren't true," Waterman said. "There's no objective evidence. Proper use of corticosteroids can have a beneficial effect on osteoarthritis."

Waterman said corticosteroids can have a longer effect on a horse's system--50 to 70 days for one injection--than people believe. He said they can affect behavior and suppress the immune system.

The most popular corticosteroid is Methylprednisolone because it lasts almost 40 days and is relatively cheap, Waterman said. But repeated use can erode arterial cartilage, he said.

"Never administer (corticosteroids) to a normal joint," Waterman said. "I've seen vet bills where every joint was injected. You're doing unbelievable damage (by shotgun administration)."

Racing jurisdictions have different withdrawal times for corticosteroids. In Pennsylvania it is seven days, while New York is considering a rule that would set a withdrawal time of 15 days, Waterman said. In Indiana, withdrawal times range from 10 days to 48 hours.

IHRC regulations on employment eligibility verification and workers' compensation also were discussed during the CE program.

The IHRC requires I-9 eligibility verification affidavits and proof of workers' comp coverage for licensing of horsemen. Trainers told IHRC officials there are issues with horsemen using exercise riders, who are considered independent contractors.

The trainers suggested exercise riders be required to have liability insurance. Horsemen who carry liability insurance are in the minority.

IHRC executive director Joe Gorajec said the agency would examine the issue.

"Workers' comp deals in various shades of gray," Gorajec said. "We want to put horsemen in the best position. I'll take the issue back to my office with regard to the licensing of exercise riders."

Gorajec said another CE program for horsemen would be held later this year at Hoosier Park Racing & Casino.