06/15/2012 2:40PM

Warning, change in test led to spate of Dermorphin positives

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Industrial Labs, a drug-testing company in Denver, Colo., was told by state racing regulators six months ago to be on the lookout for a potent opiate painkiller, dermorphin, according to the lab’s director, an alert that has led to a spate of post-race positives for the drug in at least two states.

The warning was passed on as a rumor that the drug was being abused at racetracks, according to Petra Hartmann, the lab director, who would not name the state in which the alert originated. While no positive results were recorded in the first three months of testing, the lab began detecting the drug 2 1/2 months ago, immediately after the test was tweaked, Hartmann said.

“We had about four suspected tests” in the first three months, Hartmann said. “But after we improved the test, and as we kept looking for it, they started popping up.”

On Thursday, Steven Barker, the director of the drug-testing laboratory at Louisiana State University, confirmed that the lab had called 10 positives for dermoprhin after receiving the new method from Industrial Labs. On Friday, Barker said that he had detected the drug in another post-race test, bringing the total from Louisiana racehorses to 11.

Dermorphin is a naturally occurring opioid that is produced as a skin secretion in certain species of South American frogs, though it can also be synthesized and manufactured. It is highly potent, and the minimum penalty for a post-race positive of the drug is a one-year suspension, loss of purse, and a $10,000 fine.

Barker had said that Industrial taught him the new method so his lab could confirm the detection of the drug in split samples originating from Oklahoma. The Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission would not confirm that it has received reports of positives of the drugs.

According to an official with knowledge of the positives, Oklahoma has detected at least 15 post-race positives of dermorphin. Ten of those positives came from one trainer, the official said.

Hartmann would not confirm that her lab detected positives from any one state. She said that Industrial has applied the new test to post-race samples originating from three states. Industrial does drug-testing on behalf of racing commissions in Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

Hartmann also said that her lab has shared the new method with a number of other testing laboratories across the U.S., introducing the possibility that more positives for the drug will be called in the next several weeks.