Rocky Transition for New Drug Rules in West Virginia

by | 07.29.2014 | 8:07am

West Virginia horseracing's transition to new medication rules has not gone smoothly. Since the so-called Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication and Testing Program went into effect on July 9, dozens of post-race urine samples from Charles Town and Mountaineer Park have tested positive for a variety of therapeutic medications, many of them corticosteroids, according to sources.

Complicating matters is the fact that West Virginia's testing lab, Dalare Associates of Philadelphia, Pa., is not accredited by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, one of the requirements of the new drug rules program. As a result, splits of the samples testing positive by Dalare are being sent for confirmation to Truesdail Laboratory in Tustin, Calif.

Truesdail, which is expected to be named West Virginia's new test lab, is one of five laboratories to receive accreditation from RMTC – the others being UC Davis Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, LGC Sports Science, Ohio Department of Agriculture, and Industrial Laboratories. New York Drug Testing and Research Program and Pennsylvania Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory are in the accreditation process.

Two of the drugs showing up in test samples are Depo-Medrol (methylprednisolone acetate) and dexamethasone – corticosteroids used to reduce inflammation that previously had shorter administration guidelines. The new controlled medication withdrawal guidelines are 21 days for Depo-Medrol and 72 hours for dexamethasone.

“I don't know the exact number (of positive tests),” said the West Virginia Racing Commission's acting executive director John Myers, who was appointed to the position in March. “We're not oblivious to the problem and it's going to be uncomfortable for a few days. I'm going to be working with other states that have already implemented these rules to see what modifications they've had to do or find out the times for metabolizing. It's a learning curve. I'm not sure what we are going to do.”

The West Virginia Racing Commission met last week and plans to meet again this week to discuss the issue.

Dr. Dionne Benson, executive director of the RMTC, said the withdrawal guidelines are specific concerning timelines, dose, and how the drugs are administered. “Increasing the dose or going intramuscularly can make withdrawal go longer,” she said. “Compounded drugs can also make it worse.”

Benson pointed out that neither Maryland nor Kentucky experienced a change in percentage of medication violations after adopting the new rules, which list 26 permitted drugs, along with withdrawal guidelines, thresholds, route of administration, and experimental administration dosage.

Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and vice chairman of RMTC who spearheaded the movement toward the new uniform medication rules, echoed Benson's comment about Maryland. “We did not have a problem adjusting to the new program in Maryland. Delaware was where this first got crazy,” Foreman said, in reference to a recent report that some race purses are being held up for weeks because a number of test samples have not been cleared by the LGC Sports Science lab in Lexington, Ky. LGC replaced Dalare as Delaware's official laboratory this year. Maryland moved its testing to Truesdail.

“There were or are issues with the lab in Kentucky,” Foreman said. “We don't know why it's taking so long to get them back.”

As for the problems in West Virginia, he said, “Maybe (horsemen) haven't followed the guidelines. I don't know if it's a testing issue as much as they are not following the guidelines.”

One West Virginia horseman who contacted the Paulick Report said he received notice of a positive test for Depo-Medrol, though it had been more than 40 days since the horse was treated with the medication.

“I'm still investigating,” said the West Virginia Racing Commission's Myers. “Everybody's got an idea as to why this is happening. I don't know that we are 100 percent sure of what it is. I understand powders are different than injectables. All I know is I'm hearing from stewards that have been contacted by Dalare to put this race or that race on hold. Those samples are being sent out for a second test.”

  • Money beats ethics to the wire

    Mr. Foreman, you are correct, Maryland does not have a problem adjusting to RMTC guidelines. Perhaps it appears just to be an ethics problem. If all tracks are not using accredited labs with the same testing technology, then the RMTC is a failure.

    “Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and vice chairman of RMTC who spearheaded the movement toward the new uniform medication rules, echoed Benson’s comment about Maryland. “We did not have a problem adjusting to the new program in Maryland.”

    Paulick Report, by Natalie Voss | 04.16.2014 | 8:47am

    When the state of Maryland released a call for proposals from laboratories interested in taking on the state’s post-race testing, Dr. Rick Sams, director of the HFL Sport Science Lab in central Kentucky, read over the rules carefully. The request had a number of requirements regarding the ideal candidate’s certifications but left the actual description of the testing to be done fairly open.

    Sams put together the same proposal he usually does in such cases: an outline of the state-of-the-art procedures his lab technicians use to screen all samples for 1,500 substances. The procedures would have caught all testable illegal, performance-enhancing drugs and pinpointed thresholds of legal medications to detect overages. The total cost came to $4,871,880 for five years of testing.

    Although his proposal was ranked first for its technical merit, the contract was awarded to Truesdail Laboratories in California, which offered to do five years of testing for $2,797,922.

    Truesdail’s proposal called for a combination of state-of-the-art testing and an older methodology, which limits the number of drugs for which a sample may be tested.

    Officials explained the decision in a meeting of the Board of Public Works last month.

    “It was determined that the difference in the strength of the technical proposals did not justify a 43 percent price difference and award is recommended to Truesdail Laboratories, Inc. as having the more advantageous offer to the State,” read the minutes from that meeting on Feb. 5.

    State governments often make decisions like this based on cost, but those decisions can have consequences at the finish line. What complicates matters for the racing industry is that every state operates independently, making for a varied landscape of testing standards and methods.

    • Hamish

      Why would MD choose a lab that uses a combination of old and new technology when performing tests when it could have gone to a state of the art facility? If Truesdail indeed has a limit on the number of drugs per sample that can be tested, MD should not stand up and shout how well things are going. What position has the local HBPA taken in W.VA, trainer/vets not obeying withdraw times, high technology equipment catching them by surprise, or approved therapeuitc medications reacting with each other thus altering the amount of time it takes a drug to clear the horses system? These seem to be the old standby explanations, but maybe there is a new one that we haven’t heard.

      • Lynn

        Maryland`s new lab does not find much. You get what you pay for, and when you go cheap with labs, do not expect to find much.

        • betterthannothing

          So, is using a cheap lab the best way to attract more horses in your state?

      • Gina Maybee

        The funny thing is the public works did a bid process and decided it wasn’t worth the money but the state doesn’t ultimately pay for the testing so what difference does it make? That fee gets passed along to the racetracks…

    • Happy Horse

      Now we are getting to the root of the problem. There is no true uniformity possible because of the widely divergent abilities of the accredited labs. How and why are labs accredited when they have such different testing methodology and practices ???? DEL has problems with a large spike in positives yet many of the same horsemen that race in DEL are stalwarts of the Maryland racing circuit. Same horsemen and horses in DEL and MD , supposedly the same “uniform” rules, yet no “problem” in MD- that points to a lab issue.

      Unfortunately, the tale being told about uniformity does not appear to be true. It seems readily apparent that many states are in various different stages of adopting and implementing the uniform protocols and the lab situation is a right good hot mess – some accredited, some not, different technology etc. Where are Florida, Arkansas,
      and Louisiana in the uniform movement ?

      The Jockey Club is rapidly approaching its self created deadline for uniformity, yet the industry seems quite far away from uniformity. The JC is going to have a difficult decision to make and its integrity is on the line.

      • Hamish

        From the March 28, 2014 “Enough is Enough” Ogden Phipps press release indicating a line in the sand of August 10, 2014: “If the major racing states have not implemented these reforms, TJC will reach out to federal lawmakers who have previously proposed federal legislation for our industry, and to other supporters of this approach. We will agressively seek rapid implementation, including steps leading toward the elimination of all race day medications”
        The statement was quite clear and well founded, so TJC’s decision should not be that difficult.

        • Happy Horse

          The devil is in the details. Using implementation as a standard is very slippery. A lot of states are in the “implementation” process and some are quite far down the road and some are not. It appears that the labs have no uniformity in regards to technology and testing protocols. Has anyone who has received a positive been assigned points against their license in accordance with the multiple medication violations points scheme? So, in my humble opinion, the industry is quite far from any sort of uniformity or full implementation and will not get there by August 10. That being said, I seriously doubt that the JC will do little more than move its deadline, citing something like “significant progress.”

  • Ben van den Brink

    Using more legal medications at the same time, can make it worse also.

    • Pbchi

      pathetic administrators in WV–” i don”t know what we are going to do” Duh?

      • Ben van den Brink

        This will hurt some buisiness man ( owners, vet,s and trainers) and with them small fields they do not like to loose them. So nows it,s becomes plain and simple, either you are chosen the integrity from the horses or you take the other course: the buisiness. Maybe they ain,t gooiing to test anymore.

  • Michael Castellano

    Seems like trainers have become pharmacists? Can’t get any horse to the races today without some level of drugs in their system, or recently in their system. The better ones seem to be the ones that are better at managing the drugs and escaping detection. When Baffert had 7 horses that died sudden deaths awhile back, and then once he was investigated the deaths stopped, it seemed it was no coincidence. Turned out he was giving the horses medicines to boost their thyroid functioning even though no evidence was found they had such problems. Makes you wonder. As a fan and gambler I have no way to prove any of my suspicions, but if it quacks like a duck, then it is a duck.

    • biggar

      I’m sure that you know why Asmussen’s horses didn’t die when given the same medication to boost their thyroid functioning even though no evidence was found they had such problems.

      • Ben van den Brink

        You can only state something, if the whole medication records from the horses are published. So probable Baffert used something extra that Asmussen did not, or was having an different training regimen. IMHO

  • WV

    Let me explain what is happening here from someone who has been in and around racing in West VIrigina for many years.

    West Virginia was the wild west. It was always said to “just run in West Virgina” when you have a horse who needed more help with the needle. They didnt test for firocoxib when other states did, the horses could be tapped close to a race and you could give a 3-4 concoction of meds 24-48 hours out.

    Now the rules changed and horseman being used to the wild west likely adjusted but probably just backed off a little. Instead of not tapping 3 days out they probably tapped 5 days out, thus your depo positives. Horseman there always gave dexamethasone with Bute and that is no longer allowed so there are your dex issues.

    This problem is not with the lab it’s with a group of people relying on the vet who have not adjusted to the new world of racing.

    • Elliott ness

      All you peta people, listen up. This pair of drugs account for the majority of breakdowns in this nation. They are the most destructive of all the legal drugs. Why allow these drugs? These two drugs mask pain in a way that leads to compound fractures. Azium is an awful drug for repeated use, it’s side effects are lasting and irreversible . The other drug the vets are squirting into the joints is horribly pain masking and degenerates the joint. Take the legality away from these classes of meds, the breakdown rate would be reduced by 60% at least. These two drugs are the worst, and all in their class. Why run a horse that needs these powerful steroids.

      • will

        Scientific evidence? Please cite your study

        • Elliott ness

          45 year experiment with my eyes.

  • Bubba

    Depo (methylprednisone) has been given a bad name by the RTMC. The research they used was comparing one single shot of depo to one single shot of vetalog. From a practical hands on personal experience. Comparing apples to oranges. One shot of vetalog is stronger (more pain relief) than one shot of depo. One shot of vetalog might last a week. One shot of depo might last 6 weeks or longer. So just say a cheaper horse at a cheaper track needs a joint injected and runs 3 times in 6 weeks. So inject the horse 3 times for the same time frame effect with vetalog or one time with depo. (for all the mentally challenged who are going to comment that the horse shouldn’t be competing if it needs to be injected, please stop reading now, this isn’t for you) Here is the problem: RTMC says vetalog is good and depo is bad, the RTMC went based on a single study that compared one shot to one shot, not based on the effect of the medication. So flawed study. On top of that depo is not metabolized as fast as vetalog and the with draw times are inconsistent. If any gets into soft tissue it can be picked up for 60 days. The RTMC needs to better understand depo. And do a proper comparison with other corticosteroids. Pennsylvania had the same problem. Maryland needs to actually test before they can say they had a smooth transition. There was a lot still going through in Maryland when they were supposedly testing.

    • Study some pharmacology

      Depo is worse for the joints long-term. That is a quantifiable, and proven, fact. The granular nature of the solution actually does significant damage to the cartilage. That is exactly why the RMTC has demonized it, and well they should. Vetalog, on the other hand, has been proven to actually be chondroprotective to cartilage when used in conjunction with an HA product. So yes: Depo bad, Vetalog good. Sheesh, do a little reading, would you?

      • Elliott ness

        Vetalog is horrible drug. It is dangerous as hell. Have seen many laminitis cases after Vetalog.

        • Study some pharmacology

          Using too much, then! I’ve injected thousands, seen ZERO.

  • Fast Filly

    It’s too bad the Racing Commision International doesn’t post the rulings anymore..even the people who send them money to support them can’t get them to answer them…you would be able to see all the postive tests and who got what, now, if they aren’t a famous person, know one knows…

    • Barry Irwin

      You’re right. I just went to the RCI and the place on the site that had rulings is now “under construction.”

      • Happy Horse

        Barry – its been that way for months.

        • WV

          No, it’s been that way for 19 months.

      • Fast Filly

        Been that way all year…

    • Peyton

      transparency? Pleeeze> What a joke. None of the commissions are open about tests or results. Why not?

      • Ben van den Brink

        Than the general public, would stay away from this (sometimes awfull) buisiness.

        • betterthannothing

          It does! This business can’t help digging its own grave by shooting itself in its
          thoroughly numbed foot again and again as it watches gangrene spread up into its brain. It talks the talk as needed and gets irritated by stupid
          public perception which even turns into irrational public outrage from
          time to time now that social media is chipping at its precious code of
          silence. So it must control its tragic incidents (and potentially scandalous, should dark secrets be revealed) with its go-to lie: the welfare
          and safety of race horses is top priority.

      • betterthannothing

        Because the industry is addicted to its short-term lucrative but long-term destructive secrecy.

    • MD

      I was told there haven’t been any actual positives yet. These samples still haven’t been quantified. They could all come back below the threshold or could all come back above it. Nobody knows from what I understand.

  • robet little t tuccille

    i find this a little funny with all the labs on the east coast they send there’s to C.A?? i mean there as to be a way to get more labs involved i think..

  • Larry Ensor

    First question. Just what is the cost of a drug screen per horse? Low end test, and high end test? It seems to me given the fact that the various racing jurisdictions spends million every year on testing the industry should look into investing in its own labs.

    Second question. How much would it cost to set up a lab dedicated to just blood and urine testing? How many samples can be tested per day? At the same time these labs could have on staff people dedicated to researching “designer” drugs and coming up with tests before the fact instead of after.

    Please, don’t start with “that would be the same as letting the fox guard the hen house”.
    I don’t buy that silly argument.

    • Happy Horse

      Excellent questions ! I have always wondered whether every sample is tested for all the prohibited drugs or if it some sort of random batch process where a group of samples is tested for certain substances and another group of samples is tested for other banned drugs. Would love to know, so anyone with knowledge please comment.

      • Random testing is the game

        There is clearly a random element.

    • betterthannothing

      Not a silly argument in FL and LA, the fox guards the hen house and junkies like it that way!

  • Larry Ensor

    Disappointing that not even Ray or somebody in the know from within the industry could come up with an answer to my first question. Pretty simple one it seems to me. Given the fact that one way or another those of us who write the checks to put a horse in the starting gate are paying for the tests. A “ball park” number would have sufficed.

  • Reader

    Most of the positives are from the shippers, not the residents. Dalare and Truesdail use different methods of testing the samples, hence the rash of positives for dex from out of state trainers.

    And guidelines are not laws or rules, it’s just advice. It’s possible, but not probable, to have a positive even when administering meds within the guidelines, as maybe the med just did not clear the horse’s system well enough by the race. So maybe vets and trainers know by experience that even if the guidelines say 5 days, the medication can be given at 3 days out, and the horse will not test positive, because Truesdail’s methodology does not pick it up at that concentration. However, then a new lab enters the picture and all of a sudden what was routinely administered meds a few days before the race becomes a bunch of positives.

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