A 21st Century Approach to Equine Drug Testing
Dr. Don Catlin - Founder, UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory
Ogden Mills Phipps: Our next speaker is Dr. Don Catlin. He is known the world over as a pioneer in the field of athletic drug testing. He founded the UCLA Olympic Analytical Lab 1982. That lab developed the first sport testing program in the United States and it conducted the testing for several editions of the Olympic Games.
The UCLA lab and its staff of 50 chemists and specialists perform testing services for the USOC, the NCAA, the NFL, the U.S. Department of Defense, various universities and Minor League Baseball. Dr. Catlin is Chairman of the Medical and Science Committee for the IOC Medical Commission.
Working with a group of people at Keeneland Race Course in recent months, he has devoted a great deal of time and energy to the topic of equine drug testing. The group is proposing to form a not-for-profit organization called the Equine Drug Research Institute and it has enlisted the assistance of Dr. Catlin.
We are indebted, Dr. Catlin, to you for making the long trip from Los Angeles and we look forward to your remarks.
Dr. Don Catlin: Thank you for the very kind words. I'm honored to be here.
We have different backgrounds but I think we share a deep and abiding interest in sport - and we don't like cheaters. I've been dealing with drugs in sports since 1982 when somebody from the Olympic Committee walked in and asked, "Would you build a lab for the games in Los Angeles in 1984?"
I really didn't know what he was talking about, but boy I learned! I built a lab and it changed the direction of my career.
So I stand here before you today having had the privilege of getting to know some of your issues and to give you some of my insights.
We begin in '84. The Olympic model is different. There is one lab per country. We've got 33 labs now in 33 countries. There's a reason for that. The work is so expensive, the equipment is so unique, you have to concentrate high-level people in one place. You can't afford in most countries to have multiple labs.
Three or four years ago, things began to change for me, and I was introduced - by some of the people at the RMTC meetings and at Keeneland - to the equine issues. And I went to a couple of races and I started learning things. Among other things, I learned that the issues you face are very very similar - if not identical - to the issues that I have faced for these years in sport in America and in the world.
They're the same drug issues. All it takes is one bad apple in the barrel and you've got problems - real problems. And you never know who the good one is and who the bad one is. They don't stand up and say, "It was me."
We have the same drugs, virtually, that pose problems for all of us. The ones that are tough and difficult and complex for us - EPO, growth hormone - are likewise the same for you. None of them are easy. We do know we have to get the answer right and we have to document it because, in my world, I'm going to be in court a couple months after I call a positive test and if I get it wrong, I have to find a new job. It's really kind of that simple.
And I think we've all faced the problem of insufficient funding. I've been struggling with it and we're making headway but there are issues.
I believe that R & D - research and development - is the foundation of any of this kind of work. We have to do R & D. This is high-tech industry and we have to feed it with R & D. That's the basis on which programs rest. It's expensive, yes, but it's enormously gratifying when you can solve the problem and then move on to the next problem that's waiting.
Like the Olympics, where we have multiple jurisdictions - they're just called countries - we have 208 countries belonging to the Olympic movement. Now mind you, not all of those are active but we have to deal with them all, and my goodness they have different ideas and rules about what ought to be banned and how it all ought to be done. It's complex, and you have similar complexities. That's very evident to me.
You have to do your best to avoid doping scandals. It was a doping scandal in the 1998 Tour de France that finally moved the IOC to do something. They're the only ones who could write a big enough check to really move this whole process forward. And when sport in Europe at the Tour de France was threatened by a serious scandal - basically a lot of people on drugs - the IOC moved and they moved in a big way. And that movement is being shown today. They spun off a group called the WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency. They pay half the money and the countries pay the other half. So every country that participates, and there are probably 80 so far, has a say and a right to committees - and that creates other problems, believe me!
Congress is thinking about legislation. One doesn't want Congress to nose into things but in this country, where we've been going through BALCO for a year or two now - and I'll tell you about that in a minute - that led to all the Congressional hearings so the Congressmen have a chance to have some TV time and to make statements that can sometimes be quite obnoxious to people who really understand the industry. But we have to deal with that. They do put their nose into these things from time to time. We don't want a scandal if at all possible.
What is BALCO? Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. They were a consortium of sort. I don't like to dignify them too much. They had laboratories. They had chemists. They had doctors. They had physicians, marketing.
And what did they make? They made drugs. They made designer drugs. THG is one of them. That's the one where we got some notoriety because we got a syringe and that syringe turned out to contain THG. And before we worked and broke the code, nobody had ever heard of THG. It was a designer steroid. It made men and women fast and powerful - really fast and very powerful - and nobody knew anything about it.
Now it's history. Nobody would ever take THG again. We put it in our testing program and there's no more problem with THG.
But they were also making designer stimulants, designer EPOs, designer everything. There is big money in this. There is lots of desire to do this sort of thing. And not only were they selling this material to athletes, but some of these athletes were quite well known as you've seen from just reading the paper from time to time. These were not last stringers. Some of these were first stringers.
And the story goes on and on. It still is not anywhere near finished. They have very sophisticated techniques. Their chemists and their doctors know exactly what they're doing and it appears at least - they don't publish a report - that they don't have any real funding problems.
There are limitations and we all face them. You have limitations because you're faced with a counter industry. You may not know much about it. I didn't know a lot about the counter industry in human sport. I had a suspicion there were people out there making designers. I'd been looking for them for 10 years and finally I found one and that was my proof of concept. Suddenly I knew that all my thinking was correct and all my whining was actually based on some fact that I couldn't speak too much about otherwise I'd be a whiner. But there were designer steroids and there's more and more. That's helped us to get some better funding.
Our infrastructure, and perhaps like yours, is somewhat fragmented but it's coming together with the notion that we've really got to do something. I think you may have limited inter-laboratory communication. We have had that, although our labs are spread over many countries and consistent enforcement is always an issue that we face. If we don't enforce consistently, we have problems.
There was a day when I started when my hard-earned results were swept under the table by sport, and boy that really makes somebody in the laboratory business upset! You've worked for hours, you documented it, you're ready to go to court and somebody flushes it away. You cannot let that happen.
So we come, then, to what could be done. The Olympic and the WADA model are working. It took 25 years to get them to work. It's taken a lot of money. It's by no means perfect. It's not the model for the equine community, but it's to show that with concerted effort and time, you can make serious progress. And we have.
I would guess that it would take the equine community even longer but you have an advantage. You're relatively small and you could do an alternative such as put money into R & D on your substances that are most difficult and some of the easy ones; develop some uniform methods; set up an R & D lab; and then disseminate those test results and programs to the labs and support it.
Stand by the results. Teach the other labs and get them to have what you consider to be the best available. Target specific classes of drugs. Don't try to do them all at once. It's just far too complex. Our menu today in human work is hundreds of drugs and it just takes time to get them all right and all working.
So I'd just like to summarize again by saying thank you to everybody by asking me to come and to share the podium with other people who are concerned about these things. I am deeply concerned. I am at a position where I think I can do something. I think I can help. Certainly I have more work to do on the human side, but your sport offers some unique opportunities. And so it's been a pleasure to chat with some of you about how we might pull something together and make a real dent in this process.
Ogden Mills Phipps: Thank you, Dr. Catlin. Your recommendations and a lot of talking with industry groups really makes it important that this industry has to act now!
We are determined to run the cheaters out of this sport and to maintain the proverbial level playing field.
The creation of an Equine Drug Research Institute will require a $3 million commitment from industry stakeholders. This amount will assure funding for a successful launch of this program. But additional funding will provide for the development of a larger number of new tests and this should be our goal.
Will Farish is chairing a committee that is raising those funds and I strongly and sincerely urge you to support it.
The question shouldn't be: "Can we afford such a research effort?"
Rather, it should be: "Can we afford not to have one?"
And the answer to that is certainly no!