Non-isotopic immunoassay drug tests in racing horses: A review of their application to pre- and post-race testing, drug quantitation, and human drug testing

T. Tobin, D. S. Watt, S. Kwiatkowski, H. H. Tai, J. W. Blake, J. McDonald, C. A. Prange, S. Wie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


We have introduced large scale non-isotopic immunoassay testing into pre- and post-race drug testing in racehorses. The technologies utilized are Particle Concentration Fluorescence Immuno assay (PCFIA) and the one-step Enzyme Linked Immuno Sorbent Assay (ELISA). These technologies are rapid, inexpensive, and highly effective. On introduction into post-race testing in the Western United States, these ELISA tests exposed several previously undetected patterns of drug abuse. The drugs detected were buprenorphine, oxymorphone, mazindol, sufentanil and cocaine. This led to the suspension of a large number of trainers and exposed the high false negative rate of thin layer chromatography (TLC) based testing. More recently, we have introduced both PCFIA and ELISA assays into pre- and post-race testing in Illinois. Within days, our pre-race PCFIA tests detected signs of acepromazine abuse. Directed searches of post-race urines from these horses showed evidence for acepromazine metabolites in the urine of these horses. Examination of frozen samples from associated horses yielded about 70 ELISA 'positives' for acepromazine. To date, about 25 of these ELISA 'positives' have been confirmed by mass spectrometry. We have also raised antibodies to phenylbutazone and furosemide to enable rapid and inexpensive quantitation of these permitted medications. Furosemide is a particular problem since its use requires a pre-race detention barn. For furosemide, we have developed a regulatory schedule based on our immunoassay test that allows elimination of the detention barn. For phenylbutazone, we have developed a similar immunoassay that allows rapid and inexpensive quantitation of this drug in blood. To enable racing authorities to test jockeys and other racetrack personnel, we have adapted PCFIA technology to human drug testing, and a full range of very sensitive tests for human drugs of abuse is available. These immunoassays are sufficiently sensitive to control abuse of the most potent drugs available to horsemen. In principle, an immunoassay can be raised to any drug within about six months, and made available worldwide at competitive rates. It appears clear that these non-isotopic immunoassays provide racing with the only technological basis that is sufficiently sensitive to detect the most potent abused drugs pre- and post-race, and has the flexibility to be readily adaptable to different drugs. Because of the high false negative rate generated by TLC, credible pre- and post-race testing programs cannot be based on TLC alone. Rather, such programs must be spear-headed by vigorous, sensitive, broad scope, and flexible immunoassay testing for the high potency drugs abused in racing horses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-395
Number of pages25
JournalResearch Communications in Chemical Pathology and Pharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology


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