Furosemide a Priority, But Council Bogs Down

Kentucky's Equine Drug Council has identified research into furosemide (Salix) use and quantification as the top priority for 2002, but the council on Wednesday decided proposed research projects and its budget for next year required further review.

As of Jan. 1, 2002, the council will have about $18,000 left in the bank. It's budget, funded by one-tenth of 1% of total handle annual handle in Kentucky, is expected to be $600,000 to $700,000 next year.

Furosemide research clearly is a priority, followed by a look at clenbuterol and other bronchodilators; amitraz, a pesticide used to treat mange in dogs; and methotrexate, a cancer-treatment drug. Recommendations came from council adviser Dr. Thomas Tobin of the University of Kentucky.

Tobin said the question of regulating furosemide use remains more than 20 years after its introduction. He said the intent is to devise a valid test that can be defended mathematically. "There are is no clear-cut scientific basis for these figures," Tobin said.

Ned Bonnie, a member of the drug council, said Kentucky uses "specific gravity" -- a method to measure furosemide in urine -- but can't take it to the next level, which is measuring the substance in plasma. Because of that, it's difficult regulating furosemide and imposing penalties for overages.

At a Kentucky Racing Commission meeting in October, Dr. Arnold Pessin, now a consultant, suggested the commission eliminate the four-hour Salix rule and use specific gravity to regulate use of the medication. The four-hour rule wasn't discussed by the drug council, but there was mention of how better furosemide regulation and testing would relieve the strict time requirement for its administration in racehorses.

When asked if furosemide is being abused in Kentucky, Bonnie said: "I have no basis on which to answer that."

After Tobin made his presentation, Dr. Woody Asbury, an adviser to the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, and Dr. Richard Sams of Ohio State University both recommended the council take no action pending further review. Both men serve as advisers to the drug council.

Asbury said the proposals are "very good science for the most part," but there are questions as to methods, the process, and the cost. Sams said his concerns centered on the scope and focus of the projects, as well as budgetary matters.

Bonnie suggested that, because of the time element, the drug council's budget committee, in conjunction with its advisory committee, be authorized to make the final call on Tobin's proposals. After discussion, it was decided the full council must make the ultimate decision.

"If we're not going to do that, what's the use of having the council?" said Dr. William Baker, a council member.

The council continued its meeting into the afternoon, but a final decision isn't expected until early January, officials said.

In other council business, assistant attorney general Dick Carroll clarified that, according to state statute, money for council research must be spent in Kentucky. He did say there could be some debate because the council is charged with reporting on research and information in general, not just from within Kentucky.

During a racing commission meeting in late November, Don Sturgill, counsel for the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned how the council spends its money and insisted the statute says funds can only be spent in Kentucky. Sturgill, who at the time also questioned Bonnie's involvement in a meeting held at his Louisville, Ky., office to discuss a Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association medication proposal, again made his case at Wednesday's drug council meeting.

Bonnie later said he was contacted by THA chief executive officer Alan Foreman, who was looking for a central location to hold a meeting to discuss the THA medication and drug-testing recommendations. Bonnie said he merely volunteered his office.

"It's a non-issue," Bonnie said. "I've been through many wars; this is just a skirmish."

The council didn't act on an agenda item that called for the racing commission to confirm Sams as the council's adviser retroactive to May 1, 2001. It couldn't be determined whether Carroll's legal opinion on the statute led the council to scrap the agenda item. Sams is from out of state.

The racing commission canceled its meeting scheduled for late Wednesday morning because the drug council's 2002 budget wasn't ready for approval. The drug council had earlier recommended hiring Iowa State University to serve as Kentucky's official testing laboratory for the first six months of 2002, and that recommendation has already been sent to the state capital.