The impact of drugs in the environment is an emerging problem, but not just for forensic or public health agencies. This issue has also entered the paddocks of horse racing. Failed equine drug tests have placed blame on everything from tainted feed, to stables contaminated with human urine, to handlers who inadvertently transferred traces of methamphetamine to horses. The proliferation of environmental contamination has proven to be a challenge in the interpretation of drug test results. Increasingly sensitive equipment used in screening has led to horses testing positive for drugs reportedly not administered to them by trainers or veterinarians. Low quality data can sometimes lead to false conclusions. How can we help Commission officials determine what is environmental contamination and what is actual equine doping?
What drugs or substances are in the racing environment that may contaminate the horse’s body and affect testing? Without any concrete evidence as to the levels of drugs present in the environment, it’s still just speculation.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is trying to find some answers. The growing concern about environmental contamination and increasing levels of sensitivity in equine drug testing has led to an approved analytical study by the Commission. The study will collect samples from Kentucky racetracks using broad-based, high-sensitivity full spectrum analysis instruments designed to quantify various substances and drugs found in different areas of the racing environment.
Though technology in 2008 was not able to quantify drug levels at the concentrations now possible, drug contaminants were clearly detected. Learn more in this paper was published in 2008 by Steven A. Barker of the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine.Barker’s paper stated that, “the environment of the horse contains residues of drugs in the soil beneath their hooves, in the water that washes from their barns, on the walls of their stalls, and in the air they breathe, carried on the dust that circulates from all of these origins and sources.”
High quality data allows scientists to differentiate between these ubiquitous contaminants and illicit drug use. At the 2018 National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (NHBPA) Convention, Ted Shults, an expert in forensic toxicology, said that today’s testing technology is on the verge of going toward detection levels of parts per trillion, equivalent to measuring picograms per milliliter. Drug testing workflows have evolved significantly during the past decade, specifically improved sample preparation techniques and high-resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS). Higher sensitivity and the ability to detect a wider array of drugs allows for greater confidence in the data.
With the increased capabilities of mass spectrometry-based drug testing the race for sensitivity is over. Improved workflow and increased performance in detection technology speak to Thermo Fisher Scientific’s SOLA solid phase extraction consumables and HRAM mass spectrometers (MS). Thermo Scientific™ Q Exactive™ MS are based on Orbitrap technology which provide unmatched high-resolution detection and mass accuracy to differentiate and definitively identify drugs or compounds, as well as ability to retrospectively analyze sample data for new or untargeted drugs. The newest triple quadrupole MS, such as the TSQ Altis™ Triple Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer, have unprecedented sensitivity for quantifying every drug in every matrix.
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