By: Matt Hegarty
Federal prosecutors in Louisiana have charged a veterinarian and a Nebraska online pharmacy with conspiracy related to their alleged roles in providing an illegal painkiller, dermorphin, to Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse trainers in Louisiana in a case stretching back more than five years.
An indictment released Thursday by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana alleges that veterinarian Kyle Hebert provided Louisiana trainers with vials of synthetic dermorphin – a powerful opioid that is commonly called “frog juice” because it is produced naturally as a skin secretion by several species of tree frog – and instructed the trainers in how to administer the injections on race day from late 2010 until the summer of 2012.
The online pharmacy, Essential Pharmacy Compounding, was charged with providing the dermorphin to Hebert with false labels. The indictment states that Hebert purchased 815 milligrams of dermorphin from the Omaha-based pharmacy at a cost of $25,140. An invoice attached to the indictment shows that each five-milligram vial of the painkiller cost at least $150.
Hebert did not immediately return a phone call left at his veterinary practice, Southern Equine Sports Medicine. Officials at the headquarters of Essential Pharmacy Compounding also did not immediately respond to a message.
The indictment is the latest development in a case that generated concern throughout the racing industry in 2012 when racing labs began detecting large numbers of dermorphin positives in Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds running in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. For its part, the Louisiana Racing Commission handed out suspensions ranging from three to 10 years to eight trainers whose horses tested positive for the drug.
Although Hebert had been blamed by many of the Louisiana trainers for providing the drug, the commission never took official action against the veterinarian. At the time, commission officials said that a state-led investigation looking into veterinarians who played a role in the cases was ongoing.
The indictment suggests that at least some of the trainers were not told that the syringes contained dermorphin. Instead, according to the indictment, Hebert provided the syringes without a label or with a label of “1” and told trainers that the substance “would make the horses focus and run faster,” the indictment states. Hebert told the trainers to inject the substance one hour prior to post.
It is illegal in all racing states for trainers to possess hypodermic needles, and it is illegal in all racing states to inject a horse with any substance other than the legal race-day medication furosemide within four hours of a race.
Hebert was also charged with backdating invoices for the drugs “to conceal the fact that the dermorphin syringes were distributed to trainers on race days.” The invoices listed the dermorphin injections as “bleeder supplements” or “joint supplements,” the indictment states.
Hebert is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 21 in U.S. District Court in Lake Charles, La., according to filings accompanying the indictment.