11/12/2014 5:08PM

Equine Drug Research Council bickers over uniform drug rules


LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Dissatisfaction among veterinarians and trainers with Kentucky’s effort to comply with uniform rules on medication use boiled over at a meeting on Wednesday of an advisory group to the state’s racing commission, with some members of the group threatening to push for the state to craft its own rules on widely used therapeutic medications rather than adopt recommended revisions to the uniform rules.

Though the group ultimately disagreed with only one of six revisions to the uniform rules that were under consideration, the breadth and the depth of the dissatisfaction with the existing regulations underlined the stark growing pains that are accompanying the drawn-out process to align all 38 racing states under uniform rules governing medication use. Kentucky has been an early adopter of the uniform rules, but several members of the Equine Drug Research Council said during the Wednesday meeting that they were beginning to consider that Kentucky should go its own way.

“We’re the leaders,” said Dr. Andy Roberts, a Standardbred veterinarian on the council, referring to Kentucky. “And we should be leading by example.”

The EDRC was called together on Wednesday to discuss six seemingly minor revisions to the model rules, most of which dealt with changes to withdrawal guidelines or thresholds for a handful of the 26 therapeutic medications allowed to be administered under the new rules. In one case, the council discussed one of the revisions for 45 minutes, with the conversation over the specific change becoming derailed early in the discussions so that members could lob unrelated complaints on laboratory testing and the state of the industry’s drug research.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director of the commission and the vice chair of the council, attempted to keep the panel on topic when asking for a consensus on the recommendations, but at one point Scollay became agitated with Roberts when he continued to criticize how the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium arrived at its recommendations for withdrawal times and threshold levels, at one point using the term “wild-ass guess.” The RMTC is a national consortium of racing officials that is guiding the uniform-medication effort, and Scollay is an unpaid member of several of the RMTC’s committees, including its Scientific Advisory Committee.

“I’m taking a little bit of offense at your assessment of the scientific process,” Scollay told Roberts, listing the process by which the consortium arrives at many of its recommendations. “It is not a wild-ass guess when it comes to establishing withdrawal guidance.”

Dr. Jerry Yon, a dentist who is the chairman of the council, urged the members of the group to stick with the uniform effort, calling it important to ensuring “that the betting public says that this is a level playing field.”

“Is that important or not?” Yon said. “Or are we just going to be a cottage industry from one state to another?”

The one revision that a majority of the council’s members said they would not recommend to the full commission concerned a change to the withdrawal guidance of flunixin, a painkiller commonly known by its trade name of Banamine. The revision called for trainers and veterinarians to cease administering the drug at 32 hours prior to a race, rather than the current guidance of 24 hours, because new research had indicated that horses could test positive for an excessive concentration of the drug at 24 hours out at the recommended dose.

Instead, the council told Scollay it would support raising the threshold level for the drug to 50 nanograms per milliliter of blood plasma, up from 20 nanograms. That would enable horsemen to continue to use the drug at 24 hours out at the same dosage, supporters of the concept said. Rick Hiles, a Kentucky trainer who is a member of the council, said he supported the higher threshold level because several other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have the same withdrawal guidance of 24 hours.

NSAIDs have become more strictly regulated under the new rules because of a concern that the drugs could interfere with exams for soundness prior to races. Those exams many times take place as far out ass eight hours before a horse races.

Though NSAIDs do not have overtly powerful painkilling properties, flunixin is considered more powerful than other legal painkillers, such as phenylbutazone and ketoprofen. Revising the withdrawal guidance to 32 hours out would ensure that flunixin would not interfere with pre-race exams, using research that had already been conducted on when the drug was no longer efficacious.

The full commission next meets on Dec. 12. The EDRC will likely meet on the same day, just prior to the full commission meeting, Scollay said.

The other major subject of controversy involved a proposal to establish a withdrawal guideline of 72 hours on albuterol, a bronchial dilator that has come back in favor in horse racing because of a crackdown on the use of clenbuterol, another bronchial dilator that has become a target of regulators because of evidence that horsemen were using the drug regularly to exploit its steroidal properties. Stricter rules on both drugs have especially become a concern to Standardbred horsemen, whose horses run far more often than Thoroughbreds.

Roberts led the attack on the rule, stating that the inhaled forms of albuterol are only effective for “six hours, tops,” and asking why the RMTC was recommending that the withdrawal guidance should be three days when its own scientific research showed that the drug was not effective within even 24 hours of a race.

Dr. Gary Lavin, another member of the commission, said that he suspected the withdrawal guideline was set at three days only because drug-testing laboratories were comfortable with the threshold level that had already been established for the drug at that guideline.

That led Art Zubrod, a Standardbred horseman, to say that the council should send a statement to the full commission formally objecting to the work of the RMTC on albuterol and other medication research, a concept that was supported by several other members of the council. Scollay said that she would draft the statement with the council’s input, though not without resisting the call.

The Standardbred industry’s representative on the RMTC resigned in September of last year, and the organization representing the Standardbred industry for the RMTC, the United States Trotting Association, withdrew its funding from the organization at the same time. At the time, the USTA said it disagreed with several significant aspects of the RMTC’s work.

Though it was not clear what the council’s position on the albuterol recommendation would be by the end of the meeting, Scollay said after the meeting in response to a question that she would recommend to the commission that the 72-hour withdrawal guideline be put in place, using a threshold level designed for that guidance. The council’s position was not clear because the discussion on albuterol had diverged so far off topic before Lavin recommended that the council “march on” to the next agenda item.