In the wake of the Olympic drugging scandal, debates regarding drug testing are raging. Is it too sensitive’ Should zero-tolerance rules be abandoned’ Do they sometimes produce “unfair” positives’
No, no and no. Drug abuse pervades every sector of equine sports, from pleasure classes, to racing, to the Olympics. The higher the stakes, the worse the problem.
Influencing a horse’s performance by firing it up, calming it down, blocking pain or influencing the cardiovascular system is fraudulent and dangerous. We need tough drug testing, and we need more money for it. Regulatory bodies can barely keep pace with the problem as it is.
Drug testing isn’t “too sensitive.” Horses are sensitive to a variety of drugs that can be used in tiny amounts that are virtually undetectable by routine drug screens. In the case of calming agents like fluphenazine, effects of the drug can last as long as a month or more.
There’s also some misconception about how sensitive tests are. Flunixin (Banamine) has a test that will be positive in the blood for up to 36 hours after use and positive in urine for five days. But some people have used it a week or more before testing with a positive and assume the test was made more sensitive. However, the normal detection times apply to flunixin that is given to horses that are healthy and uninjured.
Areas of active inflammation bind the drug slowly and release it slowly, meaning it will be detectable for a longer period of time. It also indicates that the horse had a serious problem in the recent past and, in many cases, shouldn’t be competing anyway. Zero drug tolerance is the only answer.
Doping horses is a big, profitable business, and it’s ruining the image of equine sports everywhere. Testing for dangerous drugs like EPO is now available, but racing jurisdictions are slow to implement it. Aggressive lobbying tends to delay legislation. But could it be that there is also fear within the industry that uncovering the extent of the scandal might do more harm than good to their image’
Most people compete for decades without ever having a positive, while a few get them regularly. Accidents do happen, but the problem is real, and it’s extensive. Current drug testing still isn’t tough enough.
-Eleanor Kellon, VMD