Updated on 09/15/2011 1:31PM

Another group enters drug debate


The Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association called Tuesday for the strict regulation of Lasix and a reclassification of all existing drugs. The group's report brings a third industry organization into the formal debate over drug-testing and medication policies.

The report, prepared in large part by THA chairman Alan Foreman and Cornell University lab director Dr. George Maylin, is expected to add ideas and urgency to an ongoing debate over the direction of United States horse racing medication policy. The issues are expected to be addressed next Tuesday at a one-day medication conference that is scheduled to begin the week-long University of Arizona Symposium on Racing in Tucson, Ariz.

Since August, two other reports have been issued on the same topic, one by a task force set up by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and the other by the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, a rival group of the THA.

The three reports agree that drug-testing and medication policies need to be overhauled and made uniform in all racing states. The reports disagree, however, on the details.

The difference in the reports "reflect the thought processes that are out there, so that's a good thing," said Jim Gallagher, the chairman of the NTRA task force. "We know what the issues are, so now we have to talk about them."

Remi Bellocq, the executive director of the National HBPA, acknowledged the differences in the reports but said: "What's critical is that we remain open to suggestion and make an honest effort to come to an agreement in Tucson and beyond."

Released in August at the Round Table Conference in Saratoga, the NTRA task force report was much broader than either the THA or HBPA proposals. It principally advocated more research on drug-testing and medication and called on the industry to come to a consensus on a number of improvements to existing drug policies. The THA and HBPA proposals build on the NTRA report by settling on specifics of how the associations would like to see medication policy changed.

The HBPA and THA proposals differ most markedly on the issue of decision levels, which are threshold amounts of a drug that are legally allowed in a post-race urine or blood sample. The HBPA report called for the establishment of decision levels on 12 performance-enhancing drugs, while the THA proposal rejects decision levels in favor of prohibiting the administration of certain drugs within a set number of days before a race.

Foreman said that scientists currently have no way of establishing threshold levels to protect against cheaters, especially since furosemide, sold under the brand name Salix but better known as Lasix, is largely unregulated in most states. Lasix is believed by most racing chemists to hamper drug-detection methods by diluting the sample.

"We are not going to be able to get to decision levels in this country until we get the use of Lasix under control," Foreman said. The THA report recommends that Lasix use be prohibited within four hours of a race. It also recommends that post-race samples be tested to determine how Lasix is affecting the detection of other drugs in the sample.

The THA report also calls for the five existing medication classifications to be thrown out in favor of a new three-class system focusing on performance-enhancing drugs or medications that interfere with drug tests. The three classes would not include therapeutic drugs that do not enhance performance or interfere with testing, which would eliminate nearly the entire Class 5 category under the existing guidelines.

The work to reclassify the drugs, along with ongoing research into new drugs and detection methods, would be performed by a non-profit association funded by a per-start fee paid by owners, the report said. Foreman said the per-start fee could be $3-$5, which could raise anywhere from $1.5 million to $2.5 million a year, based on the 2000 figure of approximately 500,000 starts in the U.S.

Other proposals in the report include the recommendation that regulators take mitigating circumstances into account for positives on certain drugs that are common environmental contaminants, such as atrophine, caffeine, and cocaine. The report also recommends that regulators establish decision levels for five non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs - the so-called "aspirins" of the horse world - as long as the drugs are administered at least 24 hours before a race.

Despite those recommendations, Foreman said the report did not recommend relaxing medication rules. "Nothing in this report liberalizes medication policy," he said. "This is a strict but fair program."

Key recommendations

* Increased emphasis on blood testing for drugs

* Stricter regulation of Lasix administration and testing

* Restricting drug use by time of administration rather than blood or urine limits.

* Approval of drugs that could aid in treating bleeding in concert with Lasix

* Approval of the controlled use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs other than Bute

* Establishment of a nonprofit national drug-testing and research consortium funded by horse owners

* Revision of the existing drug classifications

* Recognition that environmental contamination may be the cause of some drug positives

Thoroughbred Horseman's Association report