Updated on 06/17/2012 3:11PM

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.