Regulators View Drug Policy; No Race-Day Changes Yet

The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium continued its march toward a national model policy on medication and drug testing Dec. 10 when regulators responded favorably to the proposal. But wholesale changes in race-day medication rules around the country aren't expected to take place any time soon.

Regulators from 24 United States jurisdictions, as well as Canada and Jamaica, met for 3 ½ hours in Tucson, Ariz., in what largely was a question-and-answer session with a handful of consortium officials. Lonny Powell, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and treasurer of the consortium, called the response "very positive and very constructive."

"They're beyond the special interests," Powell said of the regulators. "These are the folks that would be a clear barometer if we were going down the wrong path. The great news is the heart and soul of the policy resonated very well with the group."

Among the areas discussed were race-day medication, therapeutic medication, prohibited practices, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), drug-testing procedures, and penalties. The consortium didn't release any details of the policy to the public after the meeting, and the race-day section, which has become a lightning rod in Kentucky, remains in flux.

"It's a living and breathing document," said Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the consortium. "I don't think we'll be able to say with finality what the race-day medication policy is."

Salix, the bleeder medication formerly called Lasix, is the only exception, but that was decided upon two years ago when the Medication Summit was held in Tucson. Other therapeutic medications, such as the ones used in Kentucky on race day and the adjunct bleeder medications used in most Mid-Atlantic states, eventually will be up for scientific review.

As the process continues, jurisdictions that want to maintain their current rules will have to prove -- scientifically -- the substances should be part of the national policy. The consortium, with the help of scientists and veterinarians, developed a list of 40 to 50 therapeutic drugs last year.

"We want an answer," Waterman said. "This board wants to see the horse well cared for."

It had been widely believed the consortium would issue a policy that called for only Salix on race day, but apparently, that wasn't the intent. Salix simply was the only race-day medication that had unanimous support, but that has been the case for some time.

Florida, Kentucky, and Maryland are among the states that would like to continue using some race-day therapeutic drugs. They will be able to at least until a national race-day policy is agreed upon.

Powell said the consortium is on target to meet again in late January, and get components of the policy approved by February. By the end of 2004 or in early 2005, jurisdictions may be ready to move on the document. There will be some complications that have nothing to do with the policy: Some states, for example, might need legislative approval to change medication rules.

RCI and the North American Pari-Mutuel Regulators Association will develop model rules, but they won't be in place in all jurisdictions simultaneously. Said Waterman: "Uniformity is not a light switch."