Horsemen, Chemist: Drug Problem Exaggerated

The National HBPA has again spoken out on medication and drug testing policies.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said July 1 it plans to be more involved as the racing industry considers medication and drug-testing policies horsemen believe could be detrimental and counterproductive.

The issues, some of which have been vocalized in the past, were discussed during the National HBPA Medication Committee meeting as part of the organization’s summer convention in Shepherdstown, W.Va. The discussion focused on threshold levels for drug testing and what horsemen believe is a widespread problem of contamination of samples.

Dr. Steven Barker, chemist for the Louisiana State Racing Commission, said the industry must address environmental contamination. Barker said he believes 80% of drug “positives” would be eliminated if the racing industry did away with “zero tolerance” in testing; he also noted the number of positives dropped by a similar percentage in Louisiana, which has a 24-hour rule for use of therapeutic drugs.

“If people were using (Class 1 and Class 2 drugs) to influence the outcome of races, we’d find them (through testing),” Barker said. “This industry does not have a drug problem.”

Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling, who chairs the National HBPA Medication Committee, expressed concern over an industry discussion to make longer a 24-hour cut-off for use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which are commonly referred to as NSAIDs. Stirling said evidence shows there is no difference whether some of them are used 24 hours before a race or 48 hours before a race.

“I don’t know why we’re looking to re-evaluate,” he said. “You can almost see us drifting back to those terrible words—‘zero tolerance.’ That’s just one man’s opinion.”

Stirling, a strong supporter of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said the RMTC has made tremendous progress given difficult circumstances.

“We’re coming in line with the rest of the world; in fact, we may be going further,” Stirling said of new policies enacted in the United States the last couple of years. “I know countries that don’t test for one-tenth of what we test for.”

Of the recently released study that indicates furosemide (Salix) helps reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, Stirling said: “It looks like possibly we were right and the rest of the world was wrong.” The drug, accepted as performance-enhancing, is commonly used in North America on race day but not elsewhere in the world.

Also on July 1, The Jockey Club released the agenda for its Round Table in August in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The meeting will focus on the “importance of and need for international harmonization of medication policies,” as well as an overview of the regulatory process and perception of medication issues by the public and media.

The outspoken Barker said the racing industry is creating negative perception by pursuing zero-tolerance policies. He said sources of contamination are well-known; they can be environmental, veterinary or pharmaceutical, bacterial, metabolic, and found in laboratories.

“Despite all of this, the industry allows jurisdictions to ignore possible sources of contamination,” Barker said. “It is senseless, unscientific, and antiquated. Just stop the practice of zero-tolerance enforcement. We could reduce positive calls by 80% and begin to improve horse racing’s reputation.

“This industry does the terrible job of shooting itself in the foot. (Zero tolerance) is meaningless, really, but to the public, press, and regulators, it’s the gold standard.”

Dan Fick, executive director of The Jockey Club and chairman of the RMTC, was on hand for the National HBPA Medication Committee meeting. Fick said afterward the RMTC fully understands the problem of contamination and intends to examine it further.

Dr. Thomas Tobin of the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center and a National HBPA adviser, discussed threshold levels in drug testing. He said threshold levels are of utmost importance given the increasing sensitivity of testing equipment.

Tobin said though European jurisdictions use threshold levels during initial drug screening, they aren’t publicized. In the U.S., the levels are documented.

“I’m confident the American model with threshold levels in the (medication) rule will prevail around the world,” Tobin said.

National HBPA officials said they intend to attend a July 30 meeting of the Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rules Committee to relay horsemen’s concerns on everything from drug rules to proposed claiming regulations.

“There are rules that need to be looked at,” Stirling said. “They’re turning the whole sport upside down.”