03/18/2014 5:06PM

Policy group recommends use of albuterol as alternative to clenbuterol

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A racing medication policy group has recommended that horsemen be able to use the bronchodilator albuterol up to 72 hours prior to a race as an alternative to the more strictly regulated drug clenbuterol, the group, the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said after conducting a board meeting Monday.

The recommendation to add albuterol to a list of 24 drugs that are approved for therapeutic use in Thoroughbred racing follows an outcry from Standardbred horsemen over the RMTC’s push to ban the use of clenbuterol within 14 days of a race for both breeds. The RMTC has supported the 14-day guideline because of clenbuterol’s ability to build muscle mass when used regularly, a side effect that led to widespread abuse of the drug on racing backstretches when it was less tightly regulated, according to officials.

Albuterol and clenbuterol both clear airways, but whereas clenbuterol can be administered orally or intravenously, albuterol can only be administered in an aerosolized form, using a breathing mask. As a result, it is more complicated and expensive to administer albuterol, a complaint lodged by many Standardbred horsemen who have resisted the 14-day clenbuterol restriction.

Dr. Dionne Benson, the RMTC’s executive director, said the recommendation to add albuterol to the approved list “would give horsemen an option that can be used within the withdrawal-time guidelines of clenbuterol.” She said that while albuterol is similar in chemical structure to clenbuterol, the drug does not as readily build muscle mass as clenbuterol, justifying the 72-hour withdrawal-time guideline.

Last week, the New York Gaming Commission, which regulates Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing in the state, approved a split rule for clenbuterol use that allows Standardbred horses to receive the drug up to 96 hours prior to a race while restricting Thoroughbred horsemen to using the drug up to 14 days before a race. Standardbred horsemen had claimed that because harness horses usually race once a week, the 14-day guideline amounted to a de facto ban on the drug. Several other large harness-racing states, such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, are expected to also consider split rules on clenbuterol use.

The RMTC board also voted at the meeting to recommend adding the corticosteroid isoflupredone to the approved list. Benson said the drug is being recommended at the request of the American Association of Equine Practitioners because of its efficacy in treating high-suspensory injuries, a type of malady that could not be effectively treated with any other drug on the approved list.

Corticosteroids are used to reduce inflammation. The RMTC has been pushing to more tightly regulate the use of corticosteroids because of concerns over the ability of the drugs to mask problems if used close to a race and because chronic use of the drugs can lead to long-term damage in joints. The recommended withdrawal-time guideline on isoflupredone will be seven days, Benson said.

Also at the board meeting, the RMTC board approved recommendations to tighten the regulation of two painkillers, flunixin and ketoprofen, as the result of more research into testing for the drugs. The RMTC will now recommend that the withdrawal-time guideline for flunixin be set at 32 hours, rather than 24 hours, and that testing laboratories set the 24-hour threshold for ketoprofen at 2 nanograms per milliliter of blood plasma, rather than 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood plasma.