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National HBPA releases statement in response to positive tests for dermorphin

June 22, 2012     E-mail this page to a friend!

The National HBPA and its Affiliates have zero tolerance for trainers who use drugs like Dermorphin, which have no legitimate use in horses. According to Phil Hanrahan, CEO of the National HBPA, “Dermorphin is doping. Those who use Dermorphin should be severely punished.”

Dermorphin is an opiate-like substance related to morphine. In the horse, morphine has three important actions; it directly stimulates running, it suppresses pain, and it also suppresses the perception of exhaustion at the end of a race. Morphine and related substances are classic performance improving substances that were significantly misused in racing until the advent of sophisticated testing in the late 1980s.

More recently, a chemically different peptide group of opioid substances has been identified in venoms from the skin of South American frogs. These substances, now named Dermorphins, appear to produce the same performance altering effects as morphine but with the advantage of being, until recently, undetectable. Now, however, thanks to the efforts of Mrs. Petra Hartmann and her colleagues at Industrial Laboratories, Denver, Colorado, a highly sensitive and specific confirmatory test for Dermorphin has been developed and brought online at Industrial Laboratories. The test is also used by Dr. Steven A. Barker at the Louisiana State University laboratory According to Barker, “This drug in horses is an abuse of the horse. It puts the horse’s life in danger. It puts the jockey’s life in danger. This is an attempt to cheat. This is bad stuff. THIS IS DOPING”. (emphasis added).

The introduction of this Dermorphin test resulted in a finding of about 30 Dermorphin positives in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Substances presented as Dermorphin are advertised as available from online suppliers, where it is presumably being supplied primarily for human recreational use. In horses, Dermorphin is reportedly administered intravenously shortly before post time, with the goal of producing the various opiate-like effects described above. In horse racing, Dermorphins are classified by the Association of Racing Commissioners International [ARCI] as a Class I drug. It is a prohibited substance, which presumably will result in significant penalties for individuals associated with these positive identifications.

The NHBPA and its Affiliates fully and unequivocally support a zero tolerance policy for trainers found guilty of Class I and Class II medication violations. It should be noted that based on 2009-20011 data maintained by state racing commissions and compiled by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, 99.26% of nearly 300,000 post race tests were negative of evidence of drug or medication use. During this same three year period, only a handful of drug test positives (82 out of 279,922, or less than 3/100ths of 1%) were for illegal substances (“dope”) generally having no purpose other than cheating, and only a handful of trainers were responsible for those positives. Specifically, during this three year period, on average, 5,800 trainers were licensed by state authorities to train horses. Only 12 trainers (1/5th of 1% of all trainers) can be considered to have possibly “doped” horses, according to state regulatory data. After a due process determination of guilt regarding a Class I or Class II medication violation, the accused individual(s) should be subject to severe penalties for abuse of performance altering substances such as Dermorphin.

Additionally, we note that despite the fact that this substance is apparently available for use/misuse by humans; to our knowledge our racing chemistry colleagues are the first analytical chemists to develop a valid forensic test for Dermorphin and to report positives for this substance in either human or equine forensic science.