Drugs, regulation in horse racing discussed on Capitol Hill

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Once again, Congress is eyeing implementing reforms in North American horse racing, but, this time, it’s looking to an outside organization to achieve changes.

A hearing was held Nov. 21, 2013, before the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade regarding the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013 (S. 973/H.R. 2012), which would impose new restrictions on medication use in racehorses.

In May 2013, New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall and Penn­sylvania Rep. Joe Pitts introduced the legislation. If enacted, it would designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency as the national and independent nongovernmental organization that would develop, maintain, and publish rules on medications used in racehorses. The rules would cover areas of drug withdrawal periods, approved treatments in the context of a veterinarian-client-patient-relationship, and prohibited substances and treatments.

Under the legislation, the USADA would also be charged with implementing programs relating to anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication to prevent any horse from participating in a race while under the effects of any substance or treatment that could affect its performance.

Thoroughbreds racing at the Breeders’ Cup Nov. 2, 2013, at Santa Anita Park, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Horsephotos.com)

In addition, the bill seeks to end use of all race-day medication and includes a two-year phaseout for the use of Lasix on race day. The only medications that currently can be given on race day are Lasix (generic name furosemide) and other medications used to treat exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, one of the most common medical problems affecting racehorses.

One of the hearing’s witnesses, Dr. Sheila Lyons, a private practitioner who specializes in equine sports medicine, said in her prepared testimony that “veterinarians are often asked by horsemen to provide quick fixes for injured horses and too often they oblige these unethical requests.”

The AVMA has yet to take a position on the legislation. However, in the previous Congress, the AVMA held a nonsupport position on similar legislation that sought to ban race-day medications. This is because of the direct conflict the legislation had with AVMA’s policy on the Use of Therapeutic Medications in Racehorses, which supports the use of furosemide on race day for the treatment and prevention of EIPH, and mirrors the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ policy on the subject.

AAEP Executive Director David Foley said the bill contains elements that are both in agreement with, and in opposition to, the AAEP’s current policies on racehorse medication and industry regulation, but that ultimately, the AAEP cannot support the bill in its current form. “Like the legislation, the AAEP supports the concept of uniform medication rules and penalties in all racing jurisdictions. We support increased penalties for chronic cheaters, and we are in agreement that all veterinary treatments should occur only within the context of a proper VCPR,” Foley said.

He said, however, “The AAEP does not support the legislation’s proposed ban on Lasix as a race-day treatment for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. Lasix is currently the best treatment option available for horses experiencing EIPH. We also believe an implementation plan for USADA’s proposed regulation of the sport needs to be presented before we can endorse this agency acting as the enforcement authority.”

Foley also noted that the AAEP supports the movement currently within the horse racing industry itself to achieve uniform national medication guidelines.

Related JAVMA content:

Renewed focus on race-day medications (June 15, 2011)

AAEP develops veterinary guidelines for the care of racehorses (Dec. 15, 2010)

Looking for a new direction (March 1, 2013)