Horse racing is financially supported by bettors who deserve race outcomes not decided by pharmacology.  As a result, there is understandably criticism when lab tests discover drug violations after bettors have been paid off.

The drug issues in horse racing, including the indiscriminate race-day use of furosemide, are detrimental to the sport, and are part of a macro problem in sports in general pertaining to the use and abuse of medication.  America’s most popular sport by far, professional football, demonstrates the constant tug between between keeping athletes (human or equine) competing and pursuing what is in the best interests of their health and well being.

Over 1,800 retired NFL players recently filed suit against the League’s 32 teams (not the NFL itself) for allegedly violating federal prescription drug laws.  The plaintiffs, in a case scheduled for trial in October 2017, accuse the teams of failing to observe Drug Enforcement Administration guidance on handling and distributing controlled substances.

While the NFL called the lawsuit “meritless,” a survey in 2011 by the Washington University School of Medicine (located in St. Louis, Missouri) revealed that 52% of 644 former NFL players indicated that they played with the aid of prescription pain medication and 71% said they misused such medications.  Some 7% said they were still reliant on opioids in retirement.

A medical advisor to the NFL reported that the average NFL club in 2012 gave players approximately 5,777 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 2,213 doses of controlled substances.  A trainer for an NFL team admitted to giving players drugs in which they were not told the names of or side effects.

The onetime head of the NFL Physicians Society, and the team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, asserted that “a majority of clubs as of 2010 had trainers controlling and handling prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have.”

Horse racing can and should go its own way to clean up medication abuses by adopting uniform rules and policies across the various jurisdictions and by punishing repeat offenders harshly, regardless of how much other sports look the other way while abuses persist.

The monetary engine that pulls the entire industry is driven by bettors’ perceptions of whether they are getting a “fair shake.”  Moreover, there is an ethical and moral obligation to keep horses and jockeys safe from harm…especially when the cause of harm is evident.

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