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Dermorphin Updates

Updates and information regarding dermorphin positive tests.

By Andrea Caudill with Richard Chamberlain
Q-Racing Journal
July 30, 2012

Generic Racing Photo

Earlier this year, Industrial Laboratories in Denver developed a test for the drug dermorphin (aka “frog venom”). The drug is a highly potent opiate painkiller, believed to be 30-40 times stronger than morphine. It is produced as a secretion in some species of South American tree frogs, but can also be developed synthetically.

As reported by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in June, Industrial Laboratories shared its method with Louisiana State University laboratory, and the laboratory confirmed the drug in 15 split samples originating in Oklahoma. There were also 11 positive tests reported in Louisiana, with seven of those being Quarter Horses. New Mexico reported nine positive tests for dermorphin, following expanded testing during the trials for the Grade 1 Ruidoso Futurity and Derby in late May.

Dr. Rick Sams is the director of HFL Laboratory in Lexington, Kentucky, and is the research consultant for RMTC.

“What I’m aware of is findings have been reported from New Mexico, Oklahoma and Louisiana,” Dr. Sams said on July 27. “I keep hearing rumors about possible findings elsewhere, but those are the only ones that have been reported officially. I am aware that some of those were sent to split sample or referee laboratories, and were confirmed. I know that not all of them went for confirmatory analysis because the trainers did not request confirmatory analysis, but I have been told that all that were sent have been confirmed. I am not aware of any new findings over the last several weeks. It may have run its course.”

A validated standard operating procedure and a formal report summarizing the results of the method validation study for identifying dermorphin in horse urine and blood samples are in review and will be distributed to other laboratories for their use.

“There is a rather formalized process involved in validating a test,” Dr. Sams said. “The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium has adopted procedures that are prescribed by the Food and Drug Administration, for validation of methodology that is to be used for the work they review. The UC-Davis laboratory is documenting the validation of its method, and submitting it to the Scientific Advisory Committee of the RMTC, asking those members to review what they have done. Then that standard operating procedure and the accompanying validation study report will be made freely available to anyone who wants to use it. That’s not to say that methods that are being used are not validated, and it’s not to imply that anyone has been reluctant to share information. It is just the standard procedure that the RMTC goes through with method validation.”

Dr. Dionne Benson is the newly-appointed executive director of the RMTC.

“At this point, we are in the process of trying to validate the test that was used to detect the drug,” Dr. Benson said. “The goal is to help if it goes to litigation, as we can prove that the test is repeatable and consistent. That is where it is for us right now. We have a test in place. The method, validation and standard operating procedure has been circulated. At this point, our scientific advisory committee is commenting on it, and hopefully we’ll have a consensus from our scientific advisory committee shortly.”

“This is routine,” Dr. Benson added. “Every drug that we have a level for or a detection method for, we have gone through this process.”

American Quarter Horse trainers in Louisiana who have gone before the stewards for alleged dermorphin positives include:

• Steve Garrison (for a sample taken from Coltins Fast Dash, winner of the May 26 Laddie Futurity (RG2) at Delta Downs)
• Gonzalo Gonzales (for a sample taken from Be Home By Six, winner of a June 6 claiming race at Delta Downs)
• Alonzo Loya (for a sample taken from Courvilles Buff, winner of a June 1 claiming race at Delta Downs)
• Alvin Smith Jr. (for a sample taken from Dashin Forward, who finished second in the May 26 Laddie Futurity (RG2) at Delta Downs)
• Darrel Soileau (for samples taken from JLS Game Boy, who won the May 19 Louisiana-Bred Graduation Stakes at Delta Downs and JLS The Secret Out, who won a May 25 maiden race at Delta Downs)
• Heath Taylor (for a sample taken from First Klas Fred, winner of the May 25 Develop A Plan Stakes (G3) at Delta Downs)

“We have 11 positives for nine trainers, and of the 11, seven are Quarter Horses,” said Charles Gardiner, the executive director of the Louisiana Racing Commission, on July 27. “All of the trainers in question have had stewards hearings and have gotten the maximum penalty the stewards could give, which is six months and a referral to the full commission for further action.”

The cases were scheduled for July 24, but were continued until a two-day meeting in New Orleans on August 29-30. Gardiner said they will attempt to adjudicate all 11 cases at that time.

“Four of the trainers enlisted council, and out of an abundance of caution, to give everyone enough time to prepare, the commission made a decision to continue those cases,” he said of the delay.

Gardiner also added that an investigation has been launched by the Racing Commission in partnership with the Louisiana State Police.

The trainers in question in New Mexico, all involved in the Ruidoso Futurity and Derby trials on May 25-26, include:

• John H. Bassett (for samples taken from Dont Tell Lila and Head Trauma)
• J. Heath Reed (for samples taken from DM Red Tide, Jess A Zoomin, Joker On Jack, One Classy Eagle and Teller Im Scootan)
• Carlos Sedillo (for samples taken from Greater Still and Ill Stop The World)

Vince Mares is the director of the New Mexico Racing Commission.

“We are awaiting results of the trainer splits that we sent to Texas A&M University," Mares said. "We have not received them yet. As soon as we do receive the results, if there are any positives confirmed, we will move forward with prosecution by the board of (racing) stewards.

“Any criminal prosecution will be solely at the discretion of the district attorney," Mares continued. "We are meeting this week with the Lincoln County district attorney in Alamogordo to determine the way forward. I want to emphasize again that any charges will be solely up to the DA.

“The wheels of justice sometime turn very slowly, but they do turn," he said. "We will respect all matters of due process. But we don’t care who you are: You cheat in New Mexico, and we will use our statutory authority and legal regulations to get you out.”

The trainers and horses involved in the positives reported in Oklahoma have not been reported.

Constantin Rieger, executive director of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission, was unavailable for comment.

RMTC has available on its website an informative bulletin regarding Dermorphin.


“For those who are responsible – not only for administering the drug, but for acquiring it and providing it to the individuals who did administer it – my view is they need to be run out of racing and never allowed to return,” Dr. Sams said. “There are administrative rules and legal procedures that need to be followed, but when those are done, I hope these people are out of racing. I don’t care who they are, how successful they may or may not have been. They should be gone."

AQHA supports increased testing for illegal medications such as dermorphin, along with stiffer penalties for those who break the rules. Read AQHA's statement on medication.