Thursday, January 01, 1998

AERC Drug Policy - Diane Frazier DVM

Here goes something for which I will probably be sorry later. There have been several posts about the AERC drug policy that only Truman has addressed (and a good job too -- thanks). Since I had a small part in the formulation of this policy, perhaps I should "cowboy up" and try to shed some light (and not some heat) on this controversial subject.

Most of us can agree that a substance like phenybutazone is a drug -- that it is an analgesic (pain killer) and a NSAID (nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drug). Most will agree that it should not be used in competition to mask pain in horses so that it can continue to perform.

After this collusion of opinion on substances like "bute", agreement and understanding of what is a drug and what we should do about them deteriorates rapidly.

The response to the discussion of drugs becomes analogous to the response of a group of parishioners to the sermons of a new pastor. In the Ozark hills where I live, a large number of the local congregation made a significant contribution to their income (but not to the federal tax collector) by fermenting local grains into "moonshine".

In the pastor`s first sermon, he condemned stealing and the congregation responded with shouts of "Amen". He then proceeded to decry the practice of fornication which resulted in shouts of "Hallelujah and Praise the Lord". He began to finish the sermon with a condemnation of the evils of strong drink -- for which he was received with silence. One of the deacons of the church turned to another and said, "The parson has stopped preaching and has started meddling." And, so it seems to be with any discourse on drugs and drug policy.

Much confusion seeems to have been generated due to the lack of definition as to what is a drug and what is a nutrient. A drug is a substance that has a physiological effect THAT IS NOT A NUTRIENT. All nutrients are included in one of six classes: water, carbohydrate, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals. Certainly, nutrients have a physiolocial effect or we would not be engaging in this discourse. Since AERC rule 13 addresses drugs, it by definition is not intented to regulate nutrients. Therefore, please, let us not muddy these waters concerning drugs by implying that the veterinary committee of the AERC nor its Board of Directors wishes you to stop feeding your horses (nor giving them electrolytes).

Some of the posts have requested a list of allowables and non-allowables with withdrawals times for substances in each group. A complete list can not be provided for it does not exist -- and if it did it would be out of date tomorrow. The range of substances fed to horses to "enhance performance" is too large and changes too rapidly. An incomplete list of substances known to test has been provided when all of this was presented to the membership of the AERC a few years ago. (another benefit of belonging to the national organization representing our sport.)

Without question, the role that additives, herbs, and nutriceuticals play creates our greatest migrains. Let me give you three examples.

In the late 19th century, an English midwife achieved some success in treating people with "dropsy" (accumulation of fluid in the distal extremities or body cavity due to congestive heart failure) with a tea made from the leaves of the purple foxglove, a common member of the figwort family. Many, many years later it was found that the purple foxglove contained the drug, digitalis, which has provided for the effect of the tea. Today, I have digitalis (digoxin/digitoxin) in liquid and pill form on the shelf in my practice. Would you claim that the digitalis in the bottle is a drug while the digitalis in the plant is only a herb?

Many of the nutriceuticals also cause us problems. Methyl Sulfonyl Methane (MSM) is an antiinflammatory substance with properties similar to Dimethyl Sufoxide (DMSO). It is licensed as a nutritional source of sulfur (a mineral and therefore a nutrient) and not as a drug. Now, sulfur can be bought of a nickel a pound while MSM costs twenty dollars a pound. I propose that you are not feeding MSM to your horse because you feel it is deficient in sulfur.

Lastly, before you run out of patience, let us consider water -- in its solid form, ice. Running water and ice application are common ways in which to cool horses or reduce acute swelling. If ice is applied longer and more directly , it becomes a topical anesthetic which can mask local pain as surely as lidocaine. Don`t worry -- no one has advocated the elimination of ice nor that you don`t let your horse drink.

These examples are only a few that could be used to demonstrate the complexity of the drug isssue. Yet, even for substances on which we can agree are drugs, AERC policy and rules do not prohibit you from using them to aid in the resolution of some affliction of your horse. Just do not use them when they can affect the performance of your horse during competition. These substances then may threaten the health and welfare of the horse which is the primary concern of the AERC or they can unlevel the playing field which can give one competitor an unfair advantage over another.

To this end the AERC prohibits the administration of abnormal substances (bute, isoxuprine, anesthetics, stimulants, depressants, masking agents, etc.) or normal substances in abnormal amounts (anabolic steroids, glucocorticoids, dopamine, epenephrine, etc.) which may be detected during competition.

Lastly, I would like to pose the question as to why anyone feels the need to have any of these substances in their horse on ride day. If you claim that you are not enhancing performance but are only trying to maintain longevity, then you may be fooling the person in the mirror -- and your horse -- more than you are fooling me.

I am sure this is not the end to the drug debate. If fact, it is not even the beginning. I hope the noise to traffic ratio stays low.

Dane L. Frazier DVM

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