By Dan Ross
In an amended accusation, the California Veterinary Medical Board has revised its original set of complaints leveled against California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director, Jeff Blea.
The additional information, however, mostly “fine-tunes” what was included in the original accusation against Blea and doesn't change the “big picture,” said George Wallace, Blea's attorney.
According to various leading veterinary medical experts, that big picture is one largely of lax record keeping.
What the amended accusation does, however, is set the ball rolling on a rough time-table leading to a full hearing, giving Blea 15 days with which to file a notice of defense.
Once Blea's notice of defense has been filed, the formal hearing is required to be scheduled within 30 days, said Wallace. But due to the complicated nature of the case, it will likely take longer, he said.
“We expect to oppose and refute most everything here when the appropriate time comes. It remains the case that the allegations of the Accusation are disputed, and will be either refuted altogether or shown to be consistent with the professional and legal obligations of equine veterinarians generally, and particularly of equine veterinarians at California race tracks,” Wallace wrote in an email, regarding the amended accusation.
Blea was put on administrative leave from his position as California horse racing's head veterinarian by UC Davis in January. As per an administrative law judge ruling from earlier this month, Blea's veterinary license is also temporarily suspended pending a formal hearing.
In the interim, Blea might still seek injunctive relief in the California Superior Court to lift the temporary block on his veterinary license due to the fact the suspension has “serious problems in terms of a lack of an evidentiary basis,” Wallace said. A decision on such a move could arrive by next week, he said.
After the administrative law judge's ruling earlier in February, CHRB executive director, Scott Chaney, explained that the agency was contemplating similar legal intervention in the Superior Court on behalf of Blea.
According to a CHRB spokesperson Wednesday, no decision had yet been made on the agency's legal approach in the case.
The veterinary board accuses Blea of a number of offenses, including allegedly administering drugs to racehorses without a prior examination to form a diagnosis and determine medical necessity, failing to establish “any” veterinary-client-patient relationship, and of issuing drugs that are not FDA approved for equine administration.
A subsequent TDN investigation found a broad consensus among veterinary medical experts that the infractions are largely matters of poor record keeping which typically result in punitive actions less severe than a suspended license.
Veterinary experts also suggested that the medical board's investigation into Blea potentially failed to account for the unusual nature of veterinary practice on the backstretch, where veterinarians with multiple barns under their care can build the sort of relationship with their animals that is absent from traditional small animal practice.
In its original argument for an interim suspension, the veterinary board claimed that Blea presents a “danger to public health, safety and welfare,” due to his oversight as equine medical director of the high-profile investigation into the death of the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit (Protonico), the GI Kentucky Derby winner who collapsed and died after a scheduled workout Dec. 6 at Santa Anita.
The final results of that necropsy were issued to the public last week, with Medina Spirit's cause of death ultimately “undetermined.”
According to UC Davis, Blea remains on administrative leave, despite completion of the necropsy.
“The conclusion of the Medina Spirit necropsy does not affect the status of the equine medical director position. Dr. Blea's administrative leave continues. In the meantime, school personnel continue to fulfill the duties of the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board,” wrote a UC Davis spokesperson, in an email.
The amended accusation includes details that weren't included in the original complaint.
It states, for example, that Blea's veterinarian confidential reports revealed “clusters of equine patients were administered identical medications and treatments, at the same time, at the request of their trainers without medical necessity.”
Listed in explanation are the following substances that are commonly found along the racetrack backstretch: Adequan, Gastrogard, Aspirin powder, Acepromazine pills, Uniprim, Otomax, Legend (a hyaluronic acid), and Tucoprim powder.
The amended accusation also adds additional substances to those that Blea reportedly possessed or used that have not been approved by the FDA.
But as Bryan Langlois, former president of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, had previously told the TDN, just because certain drugs don't have FDA approval for use in horses doesn't mean veterinarians are prohibited from prescribing them.
“A lot of drugs that are out there, they're FDA approved but only in certain species or only in humans. The companies never did the trials to test them in animals to get the FDA certification. So, a lot of times, we prescribe these drugs as off-label use,” Langlois had told the TDN.
“Usually, what that means is that there is no FDA approved equivalent out there for that species. The research has been done and the drug dosage has been worked out so that it can be used safely in animals, you just have to make the owner aware of the fact that you're using it off-label,” he had said.
Among the punitive outcomes the veterinary medical board is seeking against Blea is full revocation or suspension of his license.
The TDN asked Langlois to review the amended accusation. In a text, he explained that the nature of the allegations still don't rise to the level requiring immediate license suspension.