Drug Testing Report: It's Only the Beginning

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Racing Integrity and Drug Testing Task Force report, to be released Sunday, may be the tip of the iceberg, officials said Saturday during a teleconference that originated in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Jim Gallagher, executive director of the task force, said the report, the main topic of discussion during Sunday's Jockey Club Round Table, could lead to greater research in the area of equine drug testing. Of the 1,272 blind samples tested under Association of Racing Commissioners International guidelines, 98.3% contained no Class 1, 2, or 3 drugs.

The "positives" called through the Supertest program were for buspirone (Class 2, one positive), caffeine (Class 2, one positive), clenbuterol (Class 3, nine positives), clonidine (Class 3, three positives), cocaine (Class 1, one positive), dextromoramide (Class 1, one positive), guanabenz (Class 3, four positives), and triplelenamine (Class 3, two positives). Dextromoramide, a narcotic, isn't approved by the Federal Drug Administration.

Officials said the presence of a drug not approved by the FDA indicates a need for vigilance. Gallagher said one of the primary things the report showed is the lack of uniformity when it comes to threshold levels in various jurisdictions. For instance, there could have been more clenbuterol positives had the same threshold levels been used for each test..

Paul Oreffice, a member of the task force, said the number of positives called through the test was positive, but that much work remains to be done in light of rapidly changing technology. One of the recommendations of the report is that a national organization be formed to implement improvements in drug testing.

Here are the task force recommendations:

1. Jurisdictions should use more rigorous screening processes.
Key Actions:
Transition away from TLC while relying more on ELISA and instrumental
testing methods;
Rotate and develop more ELISA tests; and
Pursue strategies, including cooperative alliances for the purchase of drug testing kits, to reduce overall testing costs.

2. Jurisdictions should re-assess medication rules and enforcement policies in light of new and more sophisticated testing technologies.
Key Actions:
Reassess medication rules and enforcement policies-largely formulated on the basis of outmoded TLC methodologies-in light of ELISA and instrumental testing methods, which can detect substances in very low concentrations;
Evaluate a medication's pharmacology (i.e., its ability to affect a horse's performance) in light of new and more sophisticated testing methods to determine whether, and to what extent, administrative action is appropriate; and
Research the role that permitted medications may play in interfering with the detection of prohibited substances.

3. The racing industry should support the development of withdrawal guidelines for commonly administered therapeutic medications.
Key Actions:
Develop an alliance of industry stakeholders to determine if, when and how withdrawal times (or, alternatively, decision levels) can be made the standard for specific therapeutic medications;
Continue and expand research on the pharmacology of therapeutic medications; and
Develop a program for communicating proper systems for medication withdrawal and for reporting violations in a manner consistent with protecting the integrity of horse racing.

4. A national, external quality assurance program for drug-testing laboratories should be established.
Key Actions:
Monitor the performance of laboratories through oversight by a consortium of industry stakeholders, including racing commissions, laboratory analysts and national racing organizations;
Establish a list of substances to be tested for, and develop programs to document and verify the accuracy and reliability of testing methods; and
Disseminate findings to industry stakeholders and to participating laboratories to ensure full compliance with accepted testing procedures.

5. Create a national organization to implement improvements in drug testing and provide leadership in jurisprudence and public communication practices relating to drug testing issues.
Key Actions:
Form a national organization, representing regulators, owners, trainers. racetracks, veterinarians and drug testing researchers to implement recommendations outlined in the task force report;
Coordinate judicial and drug testing research efforts between states and racing jurisdictions; and
Reduce litigation relating to medication violations and increase horse racing's credibility in the area of drug testing by promoting judicially sound, "best practices" relating to public disclosure of suspected medication violations.