According to the Los Angeles Times, California Horse Racing Board equine medical director Dr. Jeff Blea has had his veterinary license temporarily suspended after an emergency hearing requested by the state’s veterinary medical board. The vet board issued accusation documents (akin to charging documents) against Blea and two other Southern California racetrack veterinarians last month. An emergency hearing was held on the morning of Christmas Eve to determine whether a temporary suspension was appropriate for Blea, and according to the LA Times’ John Cherwa, Administrative Law Judge Nana Chin signed the temporary suspension order on Jan. 3.
Chief among the concerns of the veterinary medical board was Blea’s ability to remain impartial in his capacity at the CHRB, given the nature of the accusations against him. Blea is accused of violating several components of the state’s veterinary practice act by administering medications to racehorses without documentation of complete medical examinations or medical necessity.
“The Board cannot fulfill its mission of protecting equine patients while Respondent Blea continues to be primarily responsible for the enforcement of violations that harm the health and safety of racehorses,” the petition states. “Respondent Blea currently oversees the UC Davis Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory drug-testing program, works with CHRB investigators to investigate potential medication violations, liaises with peers directing programs at UC Davis, including the UC Davis-CHRB necropsy program, and works with Official Veterinarians in their oversight of practicing veterinarians. This gives Respondent Blea control or influence over the drugs administered to racehorses, drug detection, and the investigations of medication violations and racehorse deaths, including the direction of the investigation, the necropsies, and their results. The UC Davis Equine Medical Director has historically held immense authority and influence over the operations and procedures within CHRB on matters related to equine health and welfare.
“The Board alleges that Respondent Blea administered medically unnecessary and non-FDA approved drugs to numerous racehorses. The Board’s findings and allegations established that racehorses are administered legal and illegal drugs to enhance performance in racing. Racing is not a medical condition or diagnosis. If Respondent Blea is allowed to continue his role in enforcement and investigations, his involvement alone will raise questions and will compromise the integrity of the drug testing program, the investigations, their findings, and their results due to the unquestionable conflict of interest. Public trust will diminish. Without a trusted drug testing system and without impartial, complete, and accurate investigations, the Board will be prevented from learning the true causes of horse death and injury, from enforcing the Practice Act, and from instituting remedial action or regulations to curb unnecessary deaths of racehorses. Because the protection of the public, especially the health and safety of equine patients, are paramount, the requested interim suspension order is proper.”
Thyroxine was a particular focus in the board’s petition for temporary suspension. There is no FDA-approved, mass-manufactured form of thyroxine in the United States for racehorses.
“Veterinarians are prohibited from possessing or using any drug, substance, or medication that has not been approved by the FDA on the premises of a facility under the jurisdiction of CHRB,” the petition read. “As an experienced veterinarian who has treated racehorses for over a decade, Respondent Blea should know and understand this regulation. Yet, on December 15, 2021, Respondent Blea announced that CHRB will begin a strict regulation of thyroxine, a thyroid medication, on January 1, 2022. Thyroxine, as stated above, is not approved by the FDA, can cause cardiac arrhythmias, and squarely falls under the category of drugs prohibited by section 1867. Respondent Blea’s approval of prohibited veterinary practices proves that he cannot be trusted to be involved in any medication violation or death investigations.”
The petition specifically cited the ongoing investigation into the sudden death of Medina Spirit as a reason for the veterinary medical board’s concern for swift action. It also alleges that in a two-month span, Blea administered medications to 3,225 horses in 67 working days, for an average of 48 horses per day.
“The records show Respondent Blea administered the same drugs for multiple horses with the same trainer consecutively at approximately the same time,” read the petition. “Respondent Blea provided drugs to a large number of horses not based on a documented examination, diagnosis or medical necessity, but instead based on what the trainer requests.”
According to the LA Times though, the CHRB has previously stated it intends to let Blea remain in the job with the belief that state regulation does not require the equine medical director to hold an active veterinary license. Both boards fall under the umbrella of California’s Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency.
Blea’s position is expected to be part of a closed session of the CHRB meeting scheduled for Jan. 20. The veterinary medical board will hold a formal hearing the following day to determine whether Blea’s license will be suspended on a non-temporary basis. A formal adjudication of the charges against him may take up to a year.
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