Dermorphin By Kimberly French They are about two to three inches long, bask in the sun by day and track down insects by night. They walk rather than hopping and are native to the dry prairie of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Known scientifically as phyllomedusa sauvagii, the waxy monkey leaf frog or painted belly leaf frog is often kept as a pet and although these frogs have a careful, calm demeanor, they produce a substance called dermorphin, which is a painkiller 40 times the strength of morphine, and has been responsible for a rash of recent positive drug tests in Quarter Horse and lower-level Thoroughbred races.
The waxy monkey leaf frog and its secretion have enough notoriety to be mentioned in a Paul Simon song, Senorita With A Necklace of Tears. “A frog in South America whose venom is the cure for all the suffering mankind must endure,” he sang. “More powerful than morphine and soothing as the rain. A frog in South American has the antidote for pain. ” As mentioned earlier, dermorphin is extremely potent but does not seem to be as addictive as morphine and is classified by Racing Commissioners International as a Class One drug. It has no therapeutic value whatsoever. Craig W.
Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University who has studied dermorphin, told the New York Times on June 19 the substance makes animals “hyper. ” “For a racehorse it would be beneficial,” he said. “The animal wouldn’t feel pain and it would have feelings of excitation and euphoria. ” Located in Denver, Colorado, Industrial Laboratories was the first lab to definitively ascertain dermorphin in postrace testing after clients passed along information from racetrack workers that the frog secretion was being used and some materials confiscated on the backstretch were actually demorphin. We identified dermorphin,” Petra Hartmann, director of direct testing services for Industrial Laboratories told the New York Times. “We knew it was out there. There is no resting in this business. You are always chasing something trying to determine what’s rumor, what’s real. ” In Hartmann’s opinion dermorphin use is not all over the backside. “The vast majority of horsemen would never subject their horse to this kind of chemical experimentation,” she said. “This is a tough issue,” Ed Martin, president of Racing Commissioners International told the New York Times. It’s a cat and mouse game. As soon as you call out dermorphin, they will try something else. That is the daily battle that goes on. ” To date more than 30 horses from three states, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Louisiana, have tested positive for the drug. On July 31, the Louisiana State Racing Commission will meet and discuss pending dermorphin cases against nine trainers. These include Quarter Horse trainers Alonzo Loya, Gonzalo Gonzales, Alvin Smith, Jr. , Darell Soileau, Steve Garrison and Thoroughbred trainers Keith Charles, Kyi Lormand and Anthony Agilar.
Also on the list is prominent Quarter Horse trainer Heath Taylor, who won the 2008 All American Futurity with the sport’s leading money earner Stoli’s Winner. “This whole thing has really taken us by surprise,” Charles Gardiner III, executive director of the Louisiana Racing Commission told the New York Times. “It couldn’t have come at a worse time. We’re fighting back federal intervention. We’re under attack and losing our fan base. Fans believe that the sport is dirty, that there is cheating. And here we have an obvious attempt to cheat. I’m sure there are more positives across the country.
It’s not unusual that something isn’t being detected. ” “We hear about some pretty exotic stuff,” Dr. Steven Barker, who directs the testing laboratory at Louisiana State University, told the New York Times. “Frog juice — this is exotic. ” Barker also told the Times 15 horses had tested positive in Oklahoma. On May 25, eight of the 25 qualifying victors for the Grade I Ruidoso Futurity at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, tested positive for dermorphin, a third place trial finisher also tested positive for the same drug. Two of the winning horses also tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol.
The trainers in question include Carl Draper and Carlos Sedillo, who at this time are in the top 10 Quarter Horse trainers in the U. S. in money won, two-time All American Futurity winner John H. Bassett, and J. Heath Reed, whose family has figured prominently in the sport. Two of the horses conditioned by Draper are co-owned by Lola Willis, wife of the New Mexico Racing Commissioner Ray Willis. Willis has been a Quarter horse owner and breeder for nearly three decades and was a member of the New Mexico Racing Commission’s Medication Committee for four years.
None of the cases have been prosecuted and no charges filed as the trainers all requested split sample testing and are waiting on the results. Kentucky joined the short list of states that have begun to test for dermorphin and no traces of the drug were found in the system of any of the participants in this year’s Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. Five of the Derby horses were tested and four Oaks fillies. The test was recently developed by Rick Sams, director of the HFL Sports Lab in Lexington and comes out shortly after the Bluegrass State became the first in the nation to ban the use of Lasix or Salix on raceday. We have not received any intelligence suggesting it has been or is being used in Kentucky,” Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “However, the detection of dermorphin in other racing jurisdictions post-race samples means that Kentucky needs to be testing for it. ” On June 19 the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium sent a notice to state racing regulators to be on the seeking out this drug which it called a “threat to racing integrity” and also explained dermorphin can be produced synthetically. There’s a lot out there and that would be an awful lot of frogs that would have to be squeezed,” Barker told the New York Times. “There are a lot of unemployed chemists out there. ” To date, there have been no positives in Standardbred or higher end Thoroughbred races. “It’s kind of like the rules and regulations that apply to driving in different states,” Martin said. “People know they aren’t supposed to drive drunk or speed, but there are always people that don’t follow the rules. Racing is no different. The cheaters always find a way to cheat or come up with some new drug, but they almost always get caught in the end. ” 2 3 4 5
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