When Is Tough Drug Testing Too Tough? Trainers, Scientists Voice Concern About Contamination

by | 02.16.2017 | 6:25pm

As post-race drug testing technology continues to improve, some veterinarians and scientists have begun to wonder: at what point do tests catch “pharmacologically irrelevant” amounts of a foreign substance?

In a recent article for Trainer magazine, writer Denise Steffanus notes some drugs are known to live in the environment for a longer period than others, and receiving and test barn stalls are not hosed down in between horses, which means soiled bedding may be left behind from one horse to the next. Intact males with a tendency to mouth or sniff new environments may be able to ingest enough of a drug residue to cause a positive test, according to some scientists. Bute, methamphetamine, flunixin, and tramadol have all been implicated in confirmed cases of contamination or have been found in university research to linger in the environment sufficiently to cause an overage in a horse.

Horsemen have expressed concern that well-meaning visitors to their barns, including owners, could accidentally contaminate a horse sufficiently to cause a positive test by feeding the horse a treat out of their hand if they've recently ingested cough medicine or caffeine.

In other words, they say, testing technology has outpaced the sensibility of regulations guiding it. Dr. Steven Barker, formerly a director of the Louisiana State University Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory, suggests testing thresholds should include minimums levels for drug positives based on how much of a substance would cause a physiological impact on the animal.

Supporters of harsh drug testing measures say trainers are responsible for what goes into their horses, and not maintaining a zero-tolerance approach would simply give license to unscrupulous connections to behave poorly and push the envelope.

Horsemen also point out that the publication of drug offenses also provides the public with the impression all racehorses are running on drugs, which may not be the reality.

“To most members of the public, a drug positive is a drug positive. They don't differentiate or comprehend the difference between an intentional violation with a performance-enhancing drug, an overage of a therapeutic medication, or a low-level contamination,” Steffanus writes.

Read the complete article at Trainer magazine.

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