By: Ross Stanton
Recently, the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee (ARRS) of the Kentucky legislature reviewed a proposal of a regulation that would give racetracks the option to identify or “card” certain races as furosemide-free.[i] Parties involved include the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC). HBPA requested Attorney General Jack Conway to determine whether granting tracks the option of “carding” races as furosemide-free is constitutional.[ii] KHRC, on the other hand, urged ARRS to cast a vote prior to the issuance of the Attorney General’s opinion.[iii] ARRS ultimately acted pursuant to the latter and declared the proposal “deficient.”[iv] However, ARRS failed to provide explanation—under the eight criteria—as to why.[v]
The decision of ARRS perpetuates the political stagnancy in addressing the controversial issue of furosemide-use in the horseracing industry. Nevertheless, Governor Beshear may consider the proposal, notwithstanding the decision of ARRS, to determine (1) if the regulation should be withdrawn; (2) if the regulation should be withdrawn and amended to conform to the deficiency; or (3) to allow the regulation to become effective notwithstanding the deficiency finding.[vi]
Furosemide, or “Lasix,” acts as a diuretic to prevent or reduce “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging” (EIPH)—a phenomenon highly pervasive in the horseracing industry that results from ruptured capillaries in the lungs following increased blood pressure from strenuous activity.[vii] Severe bleeding, while rare, may present as epistaxis—bleeding from the nostrils—and result in death.[viii] Lasix works by reducing blood plasma volume in the lungs and, consequently, reducing blood pressure and EIPH in horses.[ix] Recent studies reveal a decrease in EIPH in horses treated with Lasix—the “safest and most effective treatment . . . to this condition.”[x] Thus, advocates for horses’ welfare generally oppose bans on Lasix.
On the other hand, proponents of Lasix bans justify their posture by considering effects on the horseracing industry. Specifically, proponents argue that race-day use of Lasix unfairly enhances performance and may mask other performance enhancing drugs.[xi] While the mechanism remains unconfirmed, Lasix enhances performance either by inducing weight loss or reducing bleeding.[xii] Generally, society views performance enhancing drugs in a negative light because they create unfair advantages in competition.[xiii] In fact, the World Anti-Doping Agency has even declared the use of Lasix by humans prohibited in and out-of-competition.[xiv]
Nonetheless, breeders and trainers in the United States have used Lasix since the 1970s in virtually every competitive horse.[xv] Thus, the playing field remains virtually “level.” Some may deem the use of race-day medication in competitive animals a stigma. However, Lasix has proven beneficial to the wellbeing of horses. Ultimately, and especially in Kentucky, the wellbeing of horses should prevail. If legislatures should ban Lasix, then breeders and trainers should reevaluate the way horses are trained and raced.
I urge the Kentucky legislature and Governor Beshear to consider the regulation and withdraw it in order to comport with principles of animal decency.
[i] Ron Mitchell, Status of KY Lasix-Free Regulation Uncertain, Blood-Horse (Sept. 10, 2015, 4:29 PM), https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/94307/status-of-ky-lasix-free-regulation-uncertain.
[vii] Lasix and Blood Viscosity, Equine Health Labs (2015), http://www.equinehealthlabs.com/lasix-and-blood-viscosity; see also Daniel Ross, Lasix: the drug debate which is bleeding US horse racing dry, Drugs in sport, Guardian (Aug. 31, 2014, 7:00 AM), http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2014/aug/31/lasix-drug-debate-bleeding-horse-racing.
[viii] Joe Drape, Lasix Reduces Bleeding in Horses’ Lungs, Study Says, Sports, N.Y. Times (June 29, 2009), http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/sports/30racing.html?_r=0; Ross, supra note vii.
[ix] Lasix and Blood Viscosity, supra note vii.
[x] Drape, supra note viii; Ross, supra note vii.
[xi] Drape, supra note viii; Ross, supra note vii; see also The 2014 Prohibited List International Standard, The World Anti-Doping Code, World Anti-Doping Agency (Sept. 11, 2013), https://wada-main-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/resources/files/WADA-prohibited-list-2014-EN.pdf.
[xii] Ross, supra note vii.
[xiii] Drape, supra note viii.
[xiv] The 2014 Prohibited List International Standard, The World Anti-Doping Code, supra note xi.
[xv] Drape, supra note viii.