Vet says Lasix ‘most abused drug’ in racing

Dr. Gary T. Priest
Dr. Gary T. Priest

Kentucky veterinarian Dr. Gary T. Priest is the latest high profile equine identity to speak out about drugs in the racing industry, saying that Lasix has to be “the most abused drug” available to a racetrack veterinarian.

Priest, whose Harthill & Priest Equine Surgery clinic is in Versailles, said any therapeutic medications used on a horse should be stopped a few days before a race. “If they really are legitimate therapeutic drugs, the horses would still get the benefits of the drugs on race day.”

Speaking in support of WHOA (Water Hay Oats Alliance) and its drive for Federal Legislation to Ban Race Day Drugs, Priest said veterinary medicine had made amazing advancements in the diagnostic technology and treatments of horses since he began practice in 1976.

“My mentor Dr. Alex Harthill is credited with being the first vet to give a shot of Lasix. At the time, I am sure it seemed like a good idea, but I don’t think anybody knew what the ramifications were going to be. I don’t think any of us ever envisioned a time when every horse breezed or raced on Lasix.”

He said the current focus on zero tolerance has placed the veterinary profession in a position that providing effective therapy to the horse has become next to impossible for fear that some insignificant trace of a drug may be detected weeks or months after the horse has recovered.

“Current efforts to stop all race day medication and to adopt a zero tolerance for all drugs makes the outlook for most veterinarians interested in racetrack practice pretty dismal if this current business model continues.

“The most sensible way to accomplish this is for vets to change the model for their compensation and for trace levels of therapeutic drugs to be uniformly established by an entity empowered at the Federal level.”

He also described the current veterinary business model as “all wrong”.

“For the entire time I have been in practice, racetrack veterinarians have based their fees on the treatments actually administered versus following our human counterparts, who base their fees on providing an accurate diagnosis and planning out the treatment regimens. Vets make money selling drugs, physicians earn their money providing services, not on the sale of medication,” he said.

“The way it is now, there is too great an incentive to treat a horse because that is the only way a racetrack vet gets paid.”

In the late 1970s Priest introduced ultrasound technology to Kentucky and was one of the first to perform arthroscopic surgery in the horse.  He was named “Veterinarian of the Year” in 1996 for the State of Kentucky.

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