Advisory group: No science linking Lasix with catastrophic injuries

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: April 10, 2019

The Association of Racing Commissioners International’s Scientific Advisory Group, after an April 2 meeting, reported that “there is no current science linking furosemide treatments to muscular skeletal issues that may be a contributing cause” of catastrophic injuries in horses, ARCI said in an April 10 release.

The report was given to the ARCI Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee during the organization’s annual conference, held April 2-5 in Southern California. The committee in turn decided there is no scientific information to warrant a change in current policy, which permits use of furosemide—the anti-bleeding medication commonly called Lasix—on race day.

ARCI President Ed Martin indicated the impetus for the Scientific Advisory Group’s inquiry was a decision by The Stronach Group to ban race-day Lasix at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields—it was quickly changed to a phase-out that would begin with 2-year-olds next year—in the wake of 23 catastrophic injuries in racing and training within a three-month period at Santa Anita.

Though track officials didn’t directly link Lasix to fatalities—the proposed ban was part of package of changes in medication and safety protocols—Martin said industry organizations and individuals allowed the public to believe there could be a link. In addition, the fringe animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals seized upon the situation and called for a Lasix ban with no facts to support one.

“There remains an attempt on the part of some organizations and individuals to leave the impression that the current equine welfare policy of permitting the voluntary race-day use of furosemide under controlled and transparent circumstances is somehow tied to the tragic equine deaths that have occurred at Santa Anita and elsewhere,” Martin said. “The ARCI is never averse to examining an existing policy, and we were concerned that such statements might be based upon solid scientific information we have yet been able to analyze. Apparently, they are not.

“Our science advisers were asked to review this matter and make us aware of any new information that might be relevant to the equine tragedies that have occurred.”

The Scientific Advisory Group members who participated in the meeting were Drs. Scot Stanley, Heather Kynch, George Maylin, Ken McKeever, Cynthia Cole, Mary Robinson, Rick Sams and Thomas Tobin, according to the ARCI release.

“There remains an attempt on the part of some organizations and individuals to leave the impression that the current equine welfare policy of permitting the voluntary race day use of furosemide under controlled and transparent circumstances is somehow tied to the tragic equine deaths that have occurred at Santa Anita and elsewhere,” said ARCI President Ed Martin in a statement.

“The ARCI is never averse to examining an existing policy and we were concerned that such statements might be based upon solid scientific information we have yet been able to analyze. Apparently, they are not. Our science advisors were asked to review this matter and make us aware of any new information that might be relevant to the equine tragedies that have occurred,” he said.

The ARCI Drug Testing Standards and Practices Committee in 2011 reviewed the policy regarding Lasix after the ARCI chairman called for a five-year phase-out of race-day use. That triggered another debate that resulted in conferences, a failed attempt at a phase-out in Kentucky, and a two-year experiment by Breeders’ Cup to ban use of Lasix on race day in its 2-year-old races.

ARCI also held a public hearing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., in 2011 and, after receiving input from the scientific community, opted not to pursue a change in Lasix policy. The organization also refers to a 2014 “consensus statement” from the American College of Veterinary Medicine that was published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

The ACVM report on exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage is available here.