To help ensure the long-term viability of the U.S. racing industry and to protect racehorses, the American Association of Equine Practitioners has created an initiative called Prescription for Racing Reform. Its central component is the association’s commitment to identifying non–race day treatment alternatives for exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
The drug furosemide has been at the epicenter of the controversy over drugs used in horse racing, or more specifically, drugs that are administered on race day.
The only medications that currently can be given on race day are furosemide and other medications used to treat EIPH, one of the most common medical problems affecting racehorses.
Although furosemide is widely used in the United States, a national and international debate has continued for decades over its effectiveness in preventing EIPH. Except for the U.S., some South American countries, and parts of Canada, most countries have prohibited the use of furosemide on race day. This has been largely due to public backlash against the use of any and all drugs in the sport.
So for the past few years, the U.S. horse racing industry, including the AAEP, has been working to get all 38 racing jurisdictions to adopt the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium’s National Uniform Medication Program. It involves four components: the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule, which lists thresholds and recommended withdrawal times for 26 commonly used legal substances; requirements for laboratory accreditation; a multiple medication violation penalty system; and third-party administration of furosemide on race day.
Then in late February, the AAEP Racing Committee held a strategic planning session to address key issues affecting the health of racehorses. The result was the development of the Prescription for Racing Reform, announced in late July. Key points of the initiative are the following:
- Banning the use of anabolic steroids in racehorses in training. These are already banned for horses actively competing. The AAEP supports the complete discontinuation of systemic anabolic steroid use in horses currently in training.
- Withdrawing nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs 48 hours before racing. Current NSAID rules in most jurisdictions allow administration up to 24 hours before racing. Research indicates that the residual anti-inflammatory effect of NSAID administration remains at 24 hours. To ensure pre-race examinations are not influenced by the prior administration of an anti-inflammatory medication, the AAEP endorses withdrawing NSAIDs 48 hours pre-race.
- Investigating effective management strategies for EIPH that do not require race-day medication administration. The AAEP supports the use of furosemide to control the negative effects of EIPH in racehorses; however, it also acknowledges that race-day administration of any medication is seen by many as problematic for the sport.
Regarding the last point, the AAEP will call a meeting of scientists, including experts on EIPH in horses, pulmonary function, and sports medicine in humans, with the goal of identifying research priorities that may yield effective alternatives to current EIPH treatment protocols. The association will also pursue funding for identified research projects. In 2013, the AAEP petitioned the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine to develop a consensus statement on EIPH (see story).
Other points of the plan address stiff sanctions for rules violators and issues with compounded medication. The complete 10-Point Prescription for Racing Reform can be viewed at jav.ma/1WfBzMd.
“Our desire to investigate non–race day treatment alternatives for EIPH serves both the horse and the industry, and we are committed to developing a strategy that goes beyond the simple cessation of race-day medication,” said Dr. Kent Carter, 2015 AAEP president.
Meanwhile, a few federal bills introduced this year also seek to reform horse racing but with an eye on outside organizations to achieve changes. They are as follows:
- Teller All Gone Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015 (S. 1174)/Coronado Heights Horseracing Deregulation Act of 2015 (H.R. 2182): The legislation would repeal the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which allows for interstate off-track wagers on horse races. This is a new bill this session. The legislation states that “the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing is widespread in the United States, where no uniform regulations exist with respect to the use of, and testing for, performance-enhancing drugs in interstate horse racing.”
- Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2015 (H.R. 2641): The bill would create an independent anti-doping organization with responsibility for ensuring the integrity and safety of horse races that are the subject of interstate off-track wagers. In developing, publishing, and maintaining rules, the independent anti-doping organization would consult with state racing commissions, the host racing associations, horsemen’s groups, and other stakeholders. It also would phase out the administration of furosemide on race day over two years. This is a reintroduction.
- Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (H.R. 3084): This bill, similar to the previously mentioned legislation, seeks to improve the integrity and safety of Thoroughbred horse racing by requiring a uniform anti-doping program to be developed and enforced by an independent Thoroughbred horse racing anti-doping authority. This is a new bill.
AVMA entities were reviewing these bills as of press time in mid-August.
Related JAVMA content:
Horse racing model rules see gradual adoption (Feb. 15, 2015)
Uniform horse-racing rules gaining momentum (Feb. 15, 2014)
Furosemide debate continues (Feb. 15, 2014)
Drugs, regulation in horse racing discussed on Capitol Hill (Jan. 1, 2014)
Looking for a new direction (March 1, 2013)
Horse racing eyes changes to stay relevant (Nov. 1, 2011)
AAEP develops veterinary guidelines for the care of racehorses (Dec. 15, 2010)