Maryland: Study Needed on Steroids

Maryland regulators want more time to study regulation of anabolic steroids.

The Maryland Racing Commission remains committed to regulating anabolic steroids in racehorses, but will delay implementation of a model rule given questions about the rule itself and laboratory testing procedures.

On Jan. 25, the Maryland commission was among those in the Mid-Atlantic region that issued a joint release indicating steroids regulation would begin as early as this spring. Maryland indicated it planned to have rules in place by late summer.

However, Maryland regulators said Jan. 29 rules won’t be in place until about Jan. 1, 2009. Horsemen’s groups around the country have supported that start-up date because of what they say are problems with the model rule, a need for national uniformity, and lingering questions about threshold levels and withdrawal times for the drugs.

Maryland Racing Commission executive director Mike Hopkins couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Jan. 30, but commission chairman John Franzone was reported in the Baltimore Sun as saying: “There is much confusion as to how you test for (steroids).”

Franzone said there will be regulation of steroids in racehorses, hopefully by January 2009. He called for further study of steroids.

Horsemen’s groups have taken heat in recent days from industry officials who believe they are attempting to thwart plans to regulate anabolic steroids. The issue came to a head Jan. 25, when Dr. Steven Barker, chemist for the Louisiana State Racing Commission and an adviser to the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, bashed the model rule and those who devised it.

Barker pointed out several things in the rule that could prove problematic and called for a “common sense” approach to regulation.

In addition, at least one industry official is said to have called for the removal of Kent Stirling, executive director of the Florida HBPA, as chairman of the National HBPA Medication Committee. Barker made his comments during a meeting of that committee in New Orleans.

“It’s a very emotional issue, Alan Foreman, chief executive officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which has a Maryland affiliate, said Jan. 30. “One side is saying this needs to be done tomorrow, while the other side is saying that’s not practical, and issues need to be addressed.”

Foreman, who earlier in January called for the Jan. 1, 2009, national implementation date, said it is imperative steroids testing be done in plasma, not urine. Studies to that effect are under way, he said.

Mid-Atlantic regulators in particular have warned horsemen to stop using steroids in horses about 120 days before regulations take effect. Horsemen’s groups have said that timeframe amounts to a ban on substances that have worthwhile therapeutic uses in horses.

Foreman said it wouldn’t surprise him if the accepted withdrawal time ends up at 30 days based on scientific research.

Other issues that haven’t been addressed are horses claimed while on steroids, the impact of going “cold turkey,” the shipping of horses from state to state if regulations are different in each jurisdiction, and unjust penalties for horsemen, Foreman said.

“The issue is not regulation or control, but it needs to be done responsibly and uniformly,” Foreman said. “There’s no question there is abuse going on, and we’re going to get this under control.”

On Jan. 27, National Thoroughbred Racing Association president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop called regulation of steroids a “very critical issue” on Capitol Hill, where hearings have begun into steroid use in major league sports. Waldrop said the NTRA and others assured lawmakers the industry is taking steps to regulate steroids in race horses, though he acknowledged the current rule isn’t perfect.

“There is a problem with the model rule, and we need to fix it,” Waldrop said. “But the model rule has got to be put in place, because Congress is watching.”

Delaware and Pennsylvania plan to enact regulations in April. New York last year began a public comment period on steroids regulation and probably won’t have rules ready until the end of this year.

The model rule calls for regulation of four commonly used steroids--boldenone (Equipoise), nandrolone (Durabolin), stanozolol (Winstrol), and testosterone. Dr. Scott Stanley, associate professor at the University of California-Davis, told the National HBPA Jan. 25 his state is developing tests for non-approved steroids as well.

California plans to have regulations in the books in time for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships in late October at Santa Anita Park. Stanley also commented on an acceptable withdrawal time for steroids in racehorses.

“It won’t be 120 days,” Stanley said. “We’re going to let the data tell us rather us telling the data what it should be.”

Stanley suggested research might support a withdrawal period of 30-45 days. The objective, he said, is to use steroids therapeutically to treat various conditions and not allow horses to remain on a steroids regimen.