Furosemide ‘Myths’ Discussed at Convention
by Tom LaMarra
Panelists gathered for a Jan. 14 National Horsemen’s
Benevolent and Protective Association forum said there is no scientific
evidence supporting a ban on the use of furosemide on race day.
The National HBPA, like most horsemen’s groups a staunch
supporter of the use of furosemide, known as Salix or Lasix, to control
exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging. It is holding its winter convention in
Hollywood Beach, Fla., through Jan. 16. The National HBPA Medication Committee
regularly holds forums on issues of current interest.
The National HBPA has come out in support of a model rule
calling for administration of furosemide by regulatory veterinarians only on
race day. The organization opposes a ban on the drug on race day.
Dr. Steven Barker, chemist for the Louisiana State Racing
Commission, sought to dispel what he called industry "myths"
surrounding Salix. He said that contrary to some claims, Salix does not
interfere with testing for other drugs when blood is tested; Salix isn’t
performance-enhancing; Salix is effective in treating EIPH; and that it can’t
be proven use of the drug is "denigrating" the Thoroughbred breed.
Barker said studies that determined Salix is performance
enhancing are flawed because they didn’t consider other drugs that may have been
in the study horses’ systems, and there was no record of when furosemide was
administered. In North America it’s widely administered to horses four hours
before a race.
"The science has to be taken with a grain of salt in
some cases," Barker said. "Some facts have been left by the wayside.
Some say Lasix is denigrating the breed. What’s the science on that? Nothing.
This myth is complete fiction, having not merit or scientific data to support
Dr. Mark Dedomenico, a noted heart surgeon who operates
Pegasus Thoroughbred Center in Washington State and owns champion 3-year-old
filly Blind Luck, was unable to attend the National HBPA convention but instead
addressed horsemen through a video he had made on use of Salix in racehorses.
Dedomenico said he wouldn’t race a horse without Salix.
Dedomenico said heart beats in horses can go from 40 to 220
a minute during races, meaning their blood pressure increases rapidly. He said
if that happened in humans, they most likely would stroke.
He also said each time horses bleed in the lungs, they build
up scar tissue. "More than 90% of horses bleed into their lungs," he
said. "It shouldn’t be acceptable."
Dr. Thomas Brokken, a racetrack veterinarian for about 40
years, said when furosemide was first used in horses in the 1970s, it was
obvious the drug would be helpful for racehorses. The four-hour administration
rule came about as it was legalized in various racing jurisdictions.
"Things that work stick around, and things that don’t
work don’t stick around," Brokken said. "Lasix is injectable-that’s
the only problem we have with it, honestly."
Brokken challenged claims that vets make a lot of money
giving Salix shots to racehorses. He said there are 16 vets in his practice,
and about 4% of their gross take is from administering pre-race medication.
"Will (a race-day ban) hurt us? No," Brokken said.
"Will it change the way we treat horses? Absolutely."
Dr. Thomas Tobin, a professor at the University of Kentucky
Gluck Equine Research Center and medication adviser to the National HBPA, cited
research indicating EIPH is more related to stride and its impact during races
than exercise. He also said fluid reduction in horses helps them perform