Updated on 06/17/2012 4:11PM

Ten horses test positive for powerful painkiller in Louisiana


Ten horses in Louisiana have tested positive over the past week for a highly potent opiate painkiller after a testing lab in the state put in place a method to detect the drug, the director of the laboratory, Dr. Steven Barker, said on Thursday.

The horses have all tested positive for dermorphin, an opioid that is produced naturally as a secretion by South American frogs but can also be produced synthetically, Barker said. The drug is believed to have 30 to 40 times more potency than morphine in similar concentrations, and the recommended penalty for a positive of the drug is a minimum one-year suspension, loss of purse, and $10,000 fine.

The positives for dermorphin were first reported by NOLA.com, a New Orleans news site. According to the report, the horses that have tested positive include a mix of Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds, racing at Delta Downs, Evangeline Downs, and Louisiana Downs.

Barker said that he implemented a new method to detect dermorphin in the past two weeks at his own lab at Louisiana State University after a lab in Colorado shared the method with him so that his lab could verify the findings in 15 split samples that had previously tested positive for the drug. Barker said that all of the split samples came from Oklahoma.

Mary Ann Roberts, the staff attorney for the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, would not confirm or deny that the commission had been notified about 15 positives for dermorphin.

“We don’t comment on any pending cases, so there’s nothing I can verify for you right now,” Roberts said.

The report on NOLA.com said that the Louisiana Racing Commission has not yet released the names of the trainers who tested positive for the drug. Charles Gardiner, the commission’s executive director, had not returned a phone call by late afternoon.

Barker said that he believed that the drug was being manufactured synthetically due to the high doses that would be required to produce an effect in a racehorse.

“It’s hard to imagine someone is making this much by squeezing the backs of frogs,” Barker said. “It’d be a lot easier to synthesize it.”

Because the LSU lab immediately began finding positives after putting the test in place, it’s likely that trainers have been using the drug for some time.

WishIUnderstood More than 1 year ago
For those who decried the Kentucky Racing Board's plan to phase out Lasix, please take note. The horse racing industry is, sadly, infested by the lowest of the low -- vermin who will try literally anything to make their horses run faster or persevere longer. Banning Lasix is not the solution, but it's a good place to start, since it has long been used to mask the presence of painkillers and other performance enhancing drugs.
MJP More than 1 year ago
Makes you think about what other compounds (equine growth hormone?) can be manufactured that there is no current testing method for. Look at the absurd, unprecedented success of some of the so-called "supertrainers" that Beyer and others have written about. If the Federal Govt was really serious about it, it shouldn't be that difficult to trace the manufacturers and distributors of performance enhancing substances in racing the way they did with steroids in baseball.
john More than 1 year ago
Anytime you have any endeavor where money is the bottom line there will be those who cheat. It doesnt mean they all cheat, just the ones who have no ethics and are greedy, racing needs to step and and stop allowing the cheaters to continue to race. The trainer gets caught, switches he horse to an assistant and never misses a beat, all it will take is making an example of a name trainer and the others will think twice before cheating
smitty More than 1 year ago
go froggy go,lets have frog races\
allen payne More than 1 year ago
and Doug O'Neill gets 45 days for giving his horse an Alka-Seltzer ?..
Dave Schuler More than 1 year ago
Yep-he got some donky-(dem )mad at him lolk
neigh sayer More than 1 year ago
Interesting that the people that screamed O'Neil was a cheater citing the use of a nasal strip, and a high co2 level have said nothing about this story. They said it was about cheating, protecting the horses, that all using drugs should be banned. They said those things even though he was not charged with using a milkshake or knowing how benign the ingredients are. They said it was about performance enhancers and pain killers. And now those same people have said nothing. Hypocrites. So it really wasn't about the charges but who they were leveled against.
Mark Rowland More than 1 year ago
I doubt very much if milkshakes were the only O'Neil was doing .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The vets are the ones that have the biggest scam going on at the track. Talk about a license to steal.
PeterG More than 1 year ago
When is somebody going to find the drugs that Baffert uses?
neigh sayer More than 1 year ago
they did. He spent almost five years fighting a morphine positive through federal courts.
amory_gillian More than 1 year ago
were any of the horses claimers?
amory_gillian More than 1 year ago
Darn cheaters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thank you Matt Hegarty for continuing to shine light on these doper trainers who endanger animals and jockeys. I hope to see a list of states that will now adopt testing for dermorphin. If this poison is widely used in LA and OK, then the question becomes what other states (Texas anyone?) are similarly afflicted?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Iowa. wait for it...