21 polo horses doped to death in Florida

This is one of the more revolting stories I’ve seen in a long time.
In spite of my connections to endurance sports, I’m not a fan of the combined horse racing-polo scene (yes, I realize these are two different forms of exploitation, and don’t get me started on dog racing), and this is as unfathomable as it is infuriating.

The head of a Tallahassee-based pharmacy admitted Thursday that it incorrectly mixed a medication that was given to 21 horses that mysteriously collapsed and died before a polo match over the weekend.
Jennifer Beckett, chief operations officer for Franck’s Pharmacy, said an internal investigation revealed the strength of an ingredient in the medication was flawed. In a written statement, she did not name the medication or the ingredient involved.
”We will cooperate fully with the authorities as they continue their investigations,” she wrote. “Because of the ongoing investigations, we cannot discuss further details about this matter at this time.”
The news came as the politically-connected Venezuelan multimillionaire who owns the 21 horses indicated he suspects his team’s own veterinarian may have played a role in the deaths of some of the polo ponies, according to a letter from a Philadelphia lawyer.

The compound in question is a substitute for Biodyl, a vitamin supplement that is banned in the U.S. and contains vitamin B, selenium, potassium and magnesium–at least in theory. I am wondering if the horses, all of which perished within four hours of receiving the medication, died of cardiac arrest from the potassium. But magnesium poisoning is nothing to mess with either, and who knows what was actually in this drug.
I wouldn’t go purchasing stock in Franck’s Pharmacy of Ocala and Tallahassee, Florida anytime soon. It’s not clear from the article whether the team vet was in fact complicit in any way; he can’t necessarily be held accountable (although legally he might be ) for the pharmacy frigging up the formulation.
Bizarre, and very sad.

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  1. #1 by Vasha on April 23, 2009 - 3:29 pm

    That is sad and worrisome. When my cats were treated for ringworm, I ordered their Itraconazole from a compounding pharmacy (a different one). Compounding is very useful in veterinary medicine, where many meds are used off-label, and you need a range of doses appropriate to many different species and sizes, and it’s good to be able to order things as a liquid with flavorings, etc.

  2. #2 by Barn Owl on April 23, 2009 - 8:28 pm

    How do you define “doping”? If administering vitamin and mineral supplements (orally or by injection) to aid recovery after strenuous exercise constitutes “doping”, then there are a lot of human and equine athletes who compete while doped.
    Biodyl consists of B vitamins (B12 in particular), selenium, magnesium, and potassium. B vitamin overdoses are not known to be acutely toxic in horses, but selenium overdose certainly could be. Chronic selenium toxicity causes nervous system disorders and sloughing of hooves. Symptoms of acute selenium toxicity include irregular heartbeat, labored respiration, altered movement, and high temperatures. The Lechuza polo horses that died were stumbling and disoriented while unloading from the trailers, and were treated with ice packs and water-misting fans after they became ill at the polo field.

  3. #3 by Barn Owl on April 23, 2009 - 9:06 pm

    With a custom mix requested by very wealthy individuals, I suppose it’s possible that unapproved or illegal substances were added. Vitamin and mineral supplements for horses, administered orally from a large syringe, or injected, are pretty common in the US polo circuit. IMO the practice is based on myths and legends, rather than on science – as commenter Chris mentioned above, a lot of it is quack medicine.
    Many horse owners give supplements to their animals, but more typically in small daily doses mixed with feed; my older mare gets an immune system supplement, and my gelding now gets a hoof supplement (biotin especially), because he has crappy Thoroughbred feet that chip and won’t hold shoes. Both of my horses get an electrolyte powder mixed with a very soupy bran mash if we are competing in a polocrosse tournament in hot weather. Obviously I’m biased on this issue because I’ve played the sport, but I think that polo players have a very different relationship with their horses than do people in the racing business. Polo horses are valued teammates, and mistreating your mounts can get you banned from playing in USPA tournaments for up to a year.

  4. #4 by Bill from Dover on April 23, 2009 - 11:20 pm

    Then again, who’s to say that whatever they mixed didn’t come from China?

  5. #5 by SmartestOne on May 6, 2009 - 11:16 pm

    How are you all enjoying that crow pie?
    The investigation has now shifted to the DVM, who incorrectly wrote the Rx. The compounding pharmacist caught the error and called the vet, who instructed him to fill it as written! Selenium was the problem; it should have been 0.5 mg but was 5.0 mg.
    Notice too that the State of FL vets were in a big hurry to (a) Deny that any Biodyl-like substance was used; and (b) point the finger at the pharmacy. I see that you guys have jumped on the bandwagon here as well.
    Unlike the vets, the pharmacy has cooperated with the investigation right out of the box.
    The VET is to blame, not “some lab technician.” He will probably lose his license over this, and good riddance.
    Looking forward to your follow-up post where you correct your error. You DO have the intellectual integrity, right? :)

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