09/29/2005 11:00PM

Panels to refine drug rules

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - The Kentucky Equine Drug Council on Friday formed two subcommittees to develop recommendations on guidelines for the withdrawal times for certain drugs and to explore possible changes to the state's new list of permissible medications.

The subcommittees were formed in response to complaints from many trainers that the state's new drug rules are confusing and fail to give trainers and veterinarians proper guidelines on when to stop administering certain drugs in order to avoid a positive test on race day. The new regulations went into effect Sept. 7 after Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher approved the rules on an emergency basis, but only after they survived a court challenge from the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association.

The two subcommittees will meet at the same time that the new rules are going through the state's formal approval process. The rules were submitted to the Legislative Research Committee after the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority approved them on Aug. 15, and they are in the midst of a 60-day public comment period. Authority officials believe the final draft of the rules will be ready for legislative approval in January.

The Kentucky Equine Drug Council is charged with developing recommendations on the state's medication and drug-testing rules. The recommendations are forwarded to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which has the power to approve any changes to the rules.

Connie Whitfield, the chairwoman of the drug council, said at the Friday meeting that the subcommittees were being formed to take input from trainers and veterinarians as the rules moved toward final approval. Many trainers and veterinarians have complained that they were not allowed to offer input into the rules, although the meetings of the drug council and the authority were open to the public.

Linda Underwood, the deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Protection, which oversees the authority and drug council, said a public hearing would be held Oct. 24 at the Kentucky Horse Park to address the new rules, and that trainers and veterinarians should submit written comments to the department by Oct. 31.

John Ward, a Kentucky trainer who is a member of the drug council, will chair the subcommittee that will develop guidelines on withdrawal times. Ward said he wanted the committee to meet as quickly as possible so that the panel could issue its recommendations to the state as the final draft of the rules is being formulated.

The chairman of the subcommittee that will examine the state's permissible medications will be Dr. Gary Lavin, a veterinarian who was recently appointed to the drug council.