Medication body moves to tackle bisphosphonate use in young racehorses

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Horse racing at Golden Gate Fields, Albany, California. © Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Horse racing at Golden Gate Fields, Albany, California. Photo: Noah Salzman CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The US Racing Medication and Testing Consortium is seeking to clamp down on bisphosphonate use in young horses under a new rule, and is moving to tighten restrictions around the use of nonsteroidal anti-flammatory drugs (NSAIDs) closer to race times.

The consortium represents 23 racing industry groups representing Thoroughbred, Standardbred, American Quarter Horse and Arabian racing interests. It is a crucial element in the drive to promote uniform rules, policies and drug testing standards across the multiple racing jurisdictions in the United States.

All states with a racing industry have adopted at least some of the consortium’s rules and policies, with several on the northeastern seaboard having adopted its medication program in full.

Bisphosphonates have two key properties: an ability to bind strongly to bone mineral and an ability to inhibit the effects of mature osteoclasts – the cells that clear away damaged bone and make way for the development of new bone.

Bisphosphonates are used to treat older horses with navicular syndrome and some other bone conditions. They are FDA-approved for use only in horses aged four and over. They are not approved for use in pregnant or lactating mares because questions remain over potential effects on foal development.

There are concerns over their off-label use in the yearling Thoroughbred industry, in the belief it builds stronger, healthier bones.

The consortium’s board, which met recently at Del Mar Turf Club in California, approved a model rule for the regulation of bisphosphonates as well as further regulations and stacking prohibitions for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and intra-articular injections.

The proposed model rule for the regulation of bisphosphonates in horses racing and training, which will be submitted to the Association of Racing Commissioners International for its approval, was developed in consideration of the presumed risk from administration of bisphosphonates to such horses, and the absence of any evidence for the safety of the drug in that population.

“Our Scientific Advisory Committee felt strongly that until there is research that proves otherwise, limiting the administration of bisphosphonates to horses four years of age and older and ensuring that the administration is done in accordance with label requirements are vital to protecting the welfare of our equine athletes,” the consortium’s executive director and chief operating officer, Dr Mary Scollay, said.

The board voted to recommend a 48-hour restricted administration time policy for all NSAIDs.

Currently, the administration of one NSAID is permitted between 24 and 48 hours before a race, with all others discontinued by 48 hours.

The board also voted that the detection of more than one NSAID would constitute a violation under the policy. Regulatory language, including proposed penalties and additional withdrawal guidance, is forthcoming.

The board affirmed the position of its Scientific Advisory Committee that additional constraints on intra-articular injections are warranted, including a mandatory stand-down period following such injections, as well as a prohibition on stacking corticosteroids.

Under the stacking prohibition, detection of more than one corticosteroid would be a violation.

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