04/14/2010 11:00PM

Panel calls for lower drug levels


An influential medication advisory group has recommended that U.S. racing jurisdictions significantly lower the threshold level for widely used painkillers such as phenylbutazone and Banamine, according to members of the group.

Dr. Scot Waterman, executive director of the group, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said that the recommendation to lower the threshold level from 5 micrograms per milliliter of blood plasma or serum to 2 micrograms would likely have very little effect on how the drugs are currently administered - as long as the painkillers are administered outside of 24 hours of a race, the current legal limit in every U.S. racing jurisdiction.

"This is going to prevent cheating under that 24-hour limit," Waterman said.

The consortium, which is funded by the racing industry and conducts studies of medication issues, agreed to look at the threshold level for legal painkillers at the behest of a group of state veterinarians who were concerned that administrations of the drugs within 24 hours of a race were masking soreness or other minor maladies during prerace inspections.

"We are very pleased with this step and appreciate the RMTC's willingness to address the concerns of regulatory veterinarians," said Dr. Tom David, the equine medical director of the Louisiana State Racing Commission. "We look forward to a continuing dialogue on the subject."

Some state veterinarians have said that racing commissions would better prevent abuse of painkillers if the drugs were prohibited within 48 hours of a race.

"We'd like to study the use for a while under the new threshold level and see if it addresses their concerns," Waterman said. "Frankly, we don't have the science yet to justify a 48-hour limit."

Although Canada prevents the administration of painkillers within 48 hours of a race, the vast majority of U.S. racing jurisdictions have adopted a model rule that allows for the administration of one of three approved painkillers at least 24 hours before racing. The approved drugs are phenylbutazone, commonly known as Bute; Banamine, which is the trade name for flunixin; and ketoprofen.

* Separately, the consortium launched an online database at its website containing all of the drug-related rulings against licensees such as trainers. Many racing fans have called for increased access to a rulings database. The data base can be found at www.rmtc.net.