More Questions Raised in Kentucky Drug Debate

The debate over equine medication and drug testing in Kentucky may be colored by very important questions: Is the medication policy currently in place in the Bluegrass State legitimate, and are all racing jurisdictions on the same page when it comes to national uniformity?

The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council may decide Feb. 4 on recommendations it will make to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority on equine medication and drug testing. The council met Jan. 14 to hear the position of the national Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which is pushing uniformity, and the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which seeks to maintain current standards in the state.

In September 2002, under pressure as a national movement for medication uniformity picked up steam, the former Kentucky Racing Commission revised its race-day medication policy by greatly reducing the number of permitted substances that could be used along with Salix, the anti-bleeder medication. That policy, which remains in place, allows no more than two non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, no more than one steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, and two adjunct anti-bleeder medications.

However, the commission policy never went through the legislative process and isn't on the books as a regulation or statute. Another Kentucky statute says such internal policies are "null, void, and unenforceable."

The medication regulation currently on the books lists substances--narcotics, tranquilizers, and masking agents, for instance--that are prohibited for horses participating in a race, and says "therapeutic measures and medication required to improve or protect the health of a horse shall be administered to a horse in training under the direction of a licensed veterinarian."

"I do have a problem with the fact that, since 2002, we've been working with a policy not approved by the regulatory process," said Sen. Damon Thayer, a member of the drug council.

Connie Whitfield, chairwoman of the drug council, said commission policy documents "really don't have full effect." Yet equine drug testing, now performed by Iowa State University, has been predicated on the policy.

"The stars aren't aligned from a regulatory standpoint," said Jim Gallagher, executive director of the KHRA. "No matter what happens, the rule has to be rewritten."

Just what the rule will look like remains to be seen, though the drug council and horse racing authority appear to be leaning toward a much tighter race-day medication policy. The national model calls for only Salix--the bleeder medication formerly known as Lasix--to be administered on race day, and one non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug at least 24 hours before a race.

The Kentucky HBPA supports the position of the National HBPA and its other affiliates. It believes any policy must be uniform and scientifically based, and penalties must be uniform. It also believes drug-testing laboratories should have specific international accreditation, and that proposed changes to therapeutic medication rules be supported by peer-reviewed, published scientific research.

Kentucky HBPA president Susan Bunning, a member of the drug council, said she hasn't heard complaints about the current medication policy in Kentucky from among the organization's 6,000 members. She also said she understands that some jurisdictions that support uniformity don't necessarily support the national model as proposed.

There are some states, particularly those in the Mid-Atlantic region, which allow use of adjunct bleeder medications and plan to continue doing so. Trainer John Ward, a member of the drug council and the national consortium, said the consortium is debating use of medications that complement Salix.

It remains unclear whether the more than 20 states that have signed on with the national uniformity movement support every aspect of the consortium proposal, in particular race-day medication restrictions.

The debate hinges on the use of race-day therapeutic medication. The Kentucky HBPA claims numbers indicate Kentucky has a lower-than-average number of catastrophic injuries to racehorses, while those in favor of medication restrictions believe the liberal policy does no good.

"Kentucky has larger fields, but it's kind of the garbage dump of the nation (for sore horses)," Ward said.

There also is a call from all parties for more drug research. In Kentucky, however, the equine drug research program at the University of Kentucky was suspended in the spring of 2004, and there has been no word on whether the program will resume or how the drug council plans to spend the approximately $800,000 a year it gets to fund research projects.

Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky HBPA, said the racing authority must hear from owners and trainers who race horses in the state. He said he asked authority chairman Bill Street to listen to horsemen because "the chance of us getting a fair hearing in front of (the drug council) is almost nil."

The drug council was reconstituted by Gov. Ernie Fletcher last fall. It held its first meeting in more than a year in December.