By Tom LaMarra

An effort that began in the Mid-Atlantic region more than two years ago has made “significant progress,” according to the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program hasn’t been without its twists and turns, but given the fractured nature of the Thoroughbred industry and the need for approval on a state-by-state basis, the program has been well-received based on RMTC statistics. Nine racing jurisdictions have now adopted all aspects of the program, the latest being West Virginia, where the multiple medication violation penalty system took effect June 28.

“We are consistently making progress,” said Dr. Dionne Benson, executive director of the RMTC. “It’s almost impossible to have a static list, but it’s good to see movement in the right direction. While we are encouraged by the progress made thus far, we anticipate even more progress in the upcoming months.”

The RMTC, a group of 23 industry stakeholders, in a mid-year report released July 7 said that in the past 18 months, the number of racing states that have adopted the Controlled Therapeutic Medication Schedule increased from four to 15 and account for more than 70% of the national pari-mutuel handle. The schedule, which is updated as needed, establishes regulatory threshold testing levels and provides withdrawal times for 26 medications that the industry believes to be necessary for the routine treatment of illness or injury in the horse.

None of the drugs are administered on race day with the exception of furosemide, also known as Salix or Lasix.

The schedule was most recently put into effect in June in Minnesota, which joined Arkansas, California, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The number of commissions that have implemented the multiple medication violation penalty system has increased from three in January 2014 to 10, the RMTC said. The MMV penalty system creates a tracking system for an individual’s violations and provides for enhanced penalties for those who accumulate multiple medication violations regardless of the jurisdiction.

The system—considered a key part of the program—has been adopted in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Dakota, Virginia, and West Virginia. The MMV penalty system regulation has been submitted in Pennsylvania and New York and is awaiting government action; Kentucky is reviewing it.

Racing jurisdictions that require third-party administration of furosemide have increased from 13 in early 2014 to 16. The policy was implemented to keep private veterinarians out of stalls on race day; in a few jurisdictions they are monitored by commission personnel.

Third-party administration of furosemide is in place in Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. The RMTC said California is in the final stages of adopting the policy.

Arkansas implemented the furosemide policy this year at Oaklawn Park.

“We worked with Arkansas as it began online (with Salix administration),” Benson said. “They did great preparing for it and it was a very smooth implementation. We just don’t hear anything about it because it becomes a non-issue after it’s done.”

The National Uniform Medication Program was the subject of a meeting in the Mid-Atlantic region earlier in July. Though Virginia didn’t offer live racing last year and apparently won’t this year, the other states in the region, and New York, are on the same page, said Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

“There is a total commitment to work on uniformity in the Mid-Atlantic region, and we will continue to do so,” Foreman said July 7. “Only four or five states (in the nation) aren’t significantly far along in the program. The vast majority of major states are in the program.”

In regard to laboratory accreditation, the RMTC said 24 states utilize an RMTC-accredited lab and an external quality assurance program for equine drug testing. The states that use accredited labs are Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Laboratories in New York and Texas are currently in the application process.

Issues in Delaware, Indiana, and West Virginia have raised the question of whether the labs are testing uniformly for all substances; the depth and scope of testing often hinges on how much racing commissions are able or willing to pay. The RMTC has said it is looking into discrepancies.

The RMTC mid-year report was issued the same week federal legislation to appoint the United States Anti-Doping Agency as the overseer of medication testing, policy, and enforcement could be introduced. The bill stemmed from the belief by some in the racing industry that uniformity via a state-by-state approach is slow and problematic.

The Jockey Club, during its Round Table conference last summer, said it would it most likely would pursue federal legislation, not federal intervention, given the methodical adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program. Several organizations including Breeders’ Cup have become members of a coalition that supports the legislation.

Others have said even if there is independent oversight authorized by the federal government, the National Uniform Medication Program is an important part of the equation.

“We continue to urge all U.S. horse racing jurisdictions to adopt the reforms in their entirely without further delay,” said Alex Waldrop, chairman of the RMTC and president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. “Uniform adoption of the National Uniform Medication Program is critical to industry participants and fans alike.”

The NTRA, because of varied constituents that include horsemen’s groups and racetracks, hasn’t endorsed involvement by the federal government.