The list of drug-positive horses at the 2004 Athens Olympics is alarming — almost as much as the drugs being found.
All the competitors involved claim the drugs were used for legitimate medical purposes. The complaint is that drug testing is now too sensitive, picking up levels of drugs that are too low to influence performance. Nonsense. The drugs’ clinical effects can be long-lasting.
Antipsychotic drugs are well known to be abused in horses as calming agents because of their potency in low dosages and their long duration of effects. We can’t help but wonder if these “new” drugs are the modern-day replacement for reserpine, another long-lasting, low-dose antipsychotic that’s no longer used because better testing methods can detect it.
It’s a mute point in any case whether these drugs were administered in a deliberate attempt to influence performance/manageability of the horses. Under FEI rules, all drug-positives are basis for disqualification, regardless of the type of drug or levels found. Furthermore, responsibility for maintaining the horse is a drug-free state falls squarely on the shoulders of the competitor.
Samples from Ireland’s Waterford Crystal, the individual show-jumping gold-medal horse ridden by Cian O’Connor, tested positive for two illegal drugs:
• Fluphenazine: This drug is a chemical cousin of acepromazine (“Ace”). Fluphenazine is used to control symptoms of severe mental illness in people in psychotic states such as schizophrenia. Even then, however, this drug isn’t a first-line treatment because of the risk of potentially irreversible side effects, including movement disorders and symptoms mimicking Parkinson’s disease. The injectable form is an intramuscular preparation that is required only in extremely low doses and the effects of a single injection may last two to six weeks. The intramuscular form of the drug takes one to three days to begin to take effect.
• Zuclopenthixol: This is another potent antischizophrenic medication, used to calm human patients that are having a psychotic crisis. It’s also available in long-lasting, intramuscular forms that require one to five days to take full effect but last two weeks or longer. Potential side effects include an acute and potentially fatal neurological syndrome, and irreversible movement disorders as above for fluphenazine.
In addition, the back-up urine sample, which was part of the procedure of repeat testings on split samples when a positive is found, was apparently stolen.
The samples from Goldfever, ridden by legend Ludger Beerbaum, tested positive for Betamethasone, putting Germany’s team show-jumping medal in jeopardy.
This potent corticosteroid has profound anti-inflammatory effects. Risks include infection from immune system depression, laminitis and progression of injuries that can occur because the horse is relieved of pain.
Ringwood Cockatoo, ridden by Bettina Hoy, had a positive result for the drug Diphenhydramine. This drug is in the antihistamine family (e.g. Allerest), but it’s more widely used for its sedative side effects. It’s the active ingredient in some human products, such as Nytol and Sominex.
Hoy initially earned the three-day-event individual and team gold medals but then both were lost due to a timing rule.
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