HIWU Issues Suspensions For Bisphosphonates Possession

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Two veterinarians have been provisionally suspended by the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU) for possession of bisphosphonates, the controversial drug for treatment of bone degeneration issues that has long bedeviled horse racing regulators due to its ability to stay in the system for years, and it's propensity to potentially weaken bones if misused.

It is understood these are the first such actions HIWU has taken for possession of bisphosphonates. No post-race or out-of-competition samples have as yet returned positive for bisphosphonates, according to the HIWU rulings web-page.

HIWU is the drug enforcement arm of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA).

In an action dated Sept. 28, the two veterinarians, Scott Shell and Barbara Hippie, have been accused of violating HISA Rule 3214(a), possession of banned substances. Formal hearings on the accusations are pending.

Aside from bisphosphonates, Shell is accused of possessing two other banned substances. One is Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA), an amino acid that can be used as a calming agent. The other is the vasodilator Isoxsuprine, which can be used to treat laminitis and navicular disease.

Hippie is also accused of possessing Sarapin, a pitcher plant extract that can be used in pain relief, Isoxsuprine, and Levothyroxine, a thyroid treatment. All three are banned at all times under HISA.

The TDN emailed both Shell and Hippie Friday afternoon for comment. The story will be updated as necessary. An online search suggests the veterinarians are Ohio-based.

The TDN also contacted HIWU for further details of the complaint. Spokesperson Alexa Ravit wrote in response that the organization is unable to provide any further information regarding the alleged violations beyond what is listed on the website.

Ravit confirmed, however, that the violations were the result of each individual being in possession of the listed banned substances on Sept. 28. “Possession charges may result from searches of locations such as barns, offices, and veterinary trucks,” she wrote.

With brand names like Tildren and Osphos, bisphosphonates are used in older horses to tackle issues like navicular disease. They have also historically been used off-label to treat issues like sore shins in younger horses.

A problematic feature of bisphosphonates is that they can remain in a horse's system for many years after administration, making this a potentially tricky drug to track as horses pass through multiple hands.

Further complicating matters is how a horse administered a bisphosphonate won't necessarily test positive for the drug consistently over time.

Considering the severity of the sanctions for a banned substance positive finding, the slippery issue of bisphosphonates has made many industry stakeholders jittery.

Under HISA's rules, any “Covered Horse” proven to have been administered bisphosphonates will be subject to lifetime ineligibility, and the responsible individual could incur an anti-doping violation sanction.

Prior to HISA's anti-doping and medication control program (ADMC) going into effect earlier this year, HIWU chief of science, Mary Scollay, warned stakeholders to be vigilant about purchasing horses from aboard especially.

“As a condition of sale, I would have the seller attest that the horse has never been treated [with a bisphosphonate] so you have got the ability to turn that horse back and get your money back,” Scollay told an assembled crowd of stakeholders at Santa Anita in March. “It's a civil legal situation, but I think there are ways to protect yourself if needs be.”

Horses already in the racing pipeline may have been administered bisphosphonates in the past without their current connections' knowledge. With that in mind, one stakeholder asked Scollay if HISA's investigative body has the authority to go back over the horse's full medical history, in the event of a positive bisphosphonate test.

Though a young racehorse remains beyond HISA's legal purview until the time of its first official workout, HISA does have subpoena authority, explained Scollay. Ultimately though, as the HISA law is written, the burden of responsibility, she stressed, is placed on the trainer and owners' shoulders.

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