A solution to U.S. racehorse doping: On-track pharmacies?

by SID GUSTAFSON
Cross-posted from The Rail — The New York Times

On-track pharmacies have the potential to restore racing integrity in America. The on-track pharmacy would be the only place drugs are allowed on the racetrack.

Horse tied in stall. Photo credit: HorseRacingKills.com.
On-track pharmacies would restore the medication protocols to be decided by veterinarians rather than trainers. Veterinarians would not be allowed to drive around the backside with truckloads of drugs, as this current practice has led to indiscriminate inappropriate treatments that have led to breakdowns and doping problems.

The attending veterinarian examines a horse and prescribes a treatment.

If medication is determined to be part of the therapy, the veterinarian submits the horse’s name, the diagnosis and requested medication to the racing regulatory body.

The pharmacist and the regulatory veterinarian evaluate the request and dispense the medication.

Everything is recorded; drug, dosage, frequency of administration, expiration date, lot number, brand name, etc.

Veterinarians would not be allowed to drive around the backside with truckloads of drugs, as this current practice has led to indiscriminate inappropriate treatments that have led to breakdowns and doping problems. On-track pharmacies would restore the medication protocols to be decided by veterinarians rather than trainers.

Currently, trainers in large part decide what drugs their horses receive. With an on-track pharmacy policy in place, if a trainer thinks his or her horse needs a certain medication, a veterinarian would be required to assess the horse, arrive at a diagnosis, and then request the medication from the pharmacy, where further vetting would occur.

Rather than being utilized as medication technicians, as attending veterinarians currently are, they would again become doctors practicing veterinary medicine. Instead of being paid for drugs they administer, horse doctors would again be compensated for their medical evaluation of the patient.

The pharmacy is the only place medication could be stored or dispensed on the racetrack, other than with the emergency trauma and colic responders.

Pharmaceutical manipulation to enhance performance would be eliminated.

No drugs would be allowed to come into the track through any other venue.

Every horse would be medicated via this process, with the exception of emergency treatments.

Horse racing in Hong Kong.
Horse racing in Hong Kong is regarded by many as the template for transparency and integrity.

This is the model in Hong Kong, where the breakdown rate is one of the lowest in the world.

This policy effectively prevents doping while providing horses with the necessary therapeutic medications to train and race.

Every treatment is transparent.

The bettors, trainers, owners, and all others are made aware of every treatment for every horse. The result is racing with increased integrity, increased safety, increased public support and increased handle.

Horsemen and veterinarians [in the U.S.] will oppose this, of course, as it is inconvenient, restrictive, and allows total transparency. On-track pharmacies have the potential, nonetheless, to manage doping and restrict the pharmaceutical manipulation of performance.

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Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sports medicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.

2 thoughts on “A solution to U.S. racehorse doping: On-track pharmacies?”

  1. Glad to see Dr. Gustafson supports this idea. It is gaining momentum in the U.S.

    Mr. Frank Stronach of Stronach Group who runs Adena Springs Breeding and Racing and Gulfstream Park among other racing properties, has proposed that if the United States doesn’t work towards medication reform by instituting a singular governing body during this calendar year, he will institute on-track pharmacies on his properties by December of 2014.

    Mr. Stronach is a member of WHOA, the Water Hay Oats Association and has well run retirement and re-homing programs for his OTTBs and broodmares. He is a businessman, but he tries to do right by his horses.

    His idea is very similar. I think it is an effective way to control substances and police the dispensing of medications. A track vet and pharmacist will oversee each independent track pharmacy and no other medications will be allowed on the premises. If a horse requires medication, the vet and/or trainer will have to get permission and have the prescription filled by the on-track pharmacy for the horse to receive the requested medication.

    i am wondering about how these pharmacies would handle compounding substances and if the tracks through their house veterinarian would contract with certain compounding pharmacies to be the only compounding companies to supply substances to their tracks.

    As it stands now, there are too many “black bags’ on racetracks and too many opportunities for mail-order prescription medications to be administered by unqualified barn personnel.

    Personally I think this is a favorable step forward as we work towards medication reform in horse racing.

    For an interesting read about “the not so good old days” of race horse medications, here’s an article by Ryan Goldberg about how racehorses used to get “treated” .

    http://www.propublica.org/article/secret-to-success#

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  2. If Hong Kong has the lowest Breakdown rate they are doing something RIGHT, there will be much opposition here , but they can make this work , it is all about safety and the health and welfare of every horse and this sounds like exactly Healthy what we are looking for !!!!! healthy happy Horses is exactly what the Doctor ordered !!!!! Everyone WINS with this !!!!!

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