Mushers abuse dogs during Iditarod

Drug and alcohol abuse by mushers

Intoxicated mushers may race dogs in the Iditarod. The rules do not require the Race Marshall to discipline mushers who are half in the bag. Photo attributed to Ranger Cord on flickr

Intoxicated mushers may race dogs in the Iditarod. The rules do not require the Iditarod’s Race Marshall to discipline mushers who are half in the bag. Photo attributed to Ranger Cord on flickr

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Myth of effective drug testing

[When it’s been so difficult to develop effective drug tests for humans, you know the same difficulties also occur with dogs.]

“Doping experts have long known that drug tests catch only a tiny fraction of the athletes who use banned substances because athletes are constantly finding new drugs and techniques to evade detection.”

– Tim Rohan, The New York Times, August 23, 2013

“You can test for designer drugs, but only if you know what you’re looking for, says Jon Danaceau, an associate toxicologist at the University of Utah’s Center for Human Toxicology.

‘If somebody comes up with a completely novel drug that we don’t know to look for it, yeah, it’s possible that we can miss it,’ Danaceau says.

Bath salts. Drug tests only catch a tiny number of people who use banned substances. There are hundreds of bath salt compounds but there are only tests for 40 of them. Photo attributed to DEA

Bath salts. Drug tests only catch a tiny number of people who use banned substances. For example, there are hundreds of bath salt compounds and only tests for 40 of them. The Iditarod isn’t testing for every drug mushers may use. Photo attributed to DEA

Another problem is that dopers are using synthetic versions of stuff the body already makes — like human growth hormone and erythropoietin (EPO), which boosts red blood cells. Even sophisticated tests can’t always tell the difference.

And there are so many new drugs that it’s hard for testers to keep up. [Dr. Charles] Yesalis say these drugs are intended for people with potentially deadly diseases such as cancer or muscular dystrophy.

‘But there are these unethical medical scientists that are sitting up in the trees like vultures waiting to pounce on them for their use in athletics,’ Yesalis says. ‘And some of these drugs work well.’

Even knowing what drugs to test for might not be enough. Future dopers are likely to try gene doping, which will be almost impossible to detect.

Lee Sweeney from the University of Pennsylvania is working with a gene that can be injected into a muscle to make the muscle larger. It works on rodents and dogs.”

– Jon Hamilton, NPR, All Things Considered, July 10, 2008

“‘We are not testing for everything that may be out there,’ said Dr. Barry Logan, one of the nation’s leading toxicologists.

That’s because they can’t.

Clandestine labs are using more than 100 chemical compounds to make synthetic marijuana, but even the most sophisticated lab can only test for 17, said Logan, director of Forensic and Toxicological Services at NMS Labs in Pennsylvania….

Bath salts, also known as synthetic amphetamines, are also hard to track for the same reason.

There are hundreds of bath salt compounds out there, but toxicologists can only test for 40, Logan said.

‘This is always a moving target,’ Logan said. ‘As soon as a test exists for something, there are new compounds waiting in the wings. We are always a step behind.'”

– Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel, July 6, 2012

Iditarod won't commit to punishing drug and alcohol users

The Iditarod’s policy and program of testing mushers for drugs is a total sham. Iditarod officials don’t even get the results of the drug tests until many days after the race has ended. As a result, mushers who used banned substances can’t be disqualified from the race when they tested positive. Under Iditarod “Rule 29-Use of Drugs and Alcohol,” (subsequently Rule #30) violators of the race’s drug and alcohol policy may be ineligible to participate for a specified period of time in future races. It’s important to note that the Iditarod didn’t commit to punish violators of its rule, and it didn’t commit itself to report illegal activity to local authorities.

Iditarod Rule 29 (Rule #30 in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015):

“Alcohol or drug impairment, the use of prohibited drugs by mushers, and positive results on drug or alcohol tests administered during a Race are each prohibited. Violations of this policy shall result in disqualification from a particular Race, and may result in ineligibility from participation for a specified period of time in future Races.”

Iditarod won't identify or sanction mushers who tested positive for drugs in 2010

“Two mushers in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race have tested positive for THC, the pyschoactive compound in marijuana, race officials said Thursday.

But Iditarod Trail Committee executive director Stan Hooley said a new rule calling for drug testing isn’t clear enough to allow them to impose sanctions against the mushers, who were among the back-of-the-packers in the 1,000-mile race.”

“When discussing the new testing policy before the March 6 start of the race, Iditarod officials said any positive results would be announced along with the names of those testing positive for banned substances.”

“Without sanctions, it would ‘not be prudent’ to release the names, Hooley said. But he acknowledged they were among the last 15 competitors to reach the finish in Nome.”

– Rachel D’Oro, Associated Press, May 7, 2010

Mushers who tested positive were among the last 15 competitors to reach Nome:

“Without sanctions, it would ‘not be prudent’ to release the names, Hooley said. But he acknowledged they were among the last 15 competitors to reach the finish in Nome.”

– Rachel D’Oro, Associated Press, May 7, 2010

According to the Iditarod’s website, the following 15 mushers were the last to reach Nome in 2010: Cindy Gallea, Sam Deltour, Blake Freking, Tamara Rose, Arthur Church, Jr., Wattie McDonald, Lachlan Clarke, Newton Marshall, Billy Snodgrass, Trent Herbst, Chris Adkins, Dave DeCaro, Ross Adam, Jane Faulkner and Scott White.

All mushers not tested for drugs

Iditarod said all mushers would be tested:

“The tests will take place somewhere along the trail, but race officials will not say where or when. [Stan] Hooley also says every musher will be tested, not just certain mushers.”

– Stan Hooley is the Iditarod’s Executive Director.
– Megan Baldino, March 5, 2010, KTUU-TV, KTUU.com

Some mushers tested for drugs at White Mountain checkpoint:

“This is also the first place I’ve seen drug testing of mushers on the trail. The checkpoint is in the village city hall building, and Mackey spent a few minutes behind a door with a hand-made “Work Safe” sign.”

– Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News – The Sled Blog, March 15, 2010
– Kyle Hopkins is at the White Mountain checkpoint, which is 77 miles from Nome.

“As mushers arrive in White Mountain, they’re being pulled aside for testing. Mackey was the first.”

– Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, March 16, 2010

Mushers who didn’t finish the Iditarod were not tested for drugs:

– 2010 Iditarod:

Sixteen mushers dropped out of the 2010 Iditarod before they could be tested for drugs at the White Mountain checkpoint. According to the Iditarod’s website, the following mushers scratched: John Stewart, Hank Debruin, Ryan Redington, Warren Palfrey, Judy Currier, Emil Churchin, Tom Thurston, Linwood Fiedler, Justin Savidis, Karen Ramstead, Kathleen Frederick, Karin Hendrickson, Soya DeNure, Michael Suprenant, Pat Moon and Kirk Barnum.

– 2011 Iditarod:

The 15 mushers who didn’t finish the 2011 Iditarod were not tested for drugs. According to the Iditarod’s website, they are the following mushers: Mitch Seavey, Karin Hendrickson, Robert Bundtzen, Mike Santos, Kris Hoffman, Judy Currier, Newton Marshall, Brennan Norden, James Bardoner, Gerry Willomitzer, Paul Gehbardt, Jessica Hendricks, Zoya DeNure, Melissa Owens and Bob Storey.

– 2012 Iditarod:

The 13 mushers who didn’t finish the 2012 Iditarod were not tested for drugs. According to the Iditarod’s website, they are the following mushers: Tom Thurston, Wade Marrs, Jeff King, Michael Suprenant, Pat Moon, Gerry Willomitzer, Jake Berkowitz, Kirk Barnum, Zoya DeNure, Silvia Furtwangler, Josh Cadzow, Lachlan Clarke and Ryan Redington.

– 2013 Iditarod:

The 11 mushers who didn’t finish the 2013 Iditarod weren’t tested for drugs. According to the Iditarod’s website, they are the following mushers: Robert Bundtzen, Charley Bejna, Jason Mackey, Rudy Demoski, Sr., Cindy Abbott, Jan Steves, Gerry Willomitzer, Michael Suprenant, David Sawatzky, Newton Marshall and Scott Janssen.

– 2014 Iditarod:

In the 2014 Iditarod, eighteen mushers dropped out before they could be tested for drugs at the White Mountain checkpoint. According to the Iditarod’s website, they are are following mushers: Kelly Maixner, Elliot Anderson, Nicolas Petit, Ramey Smyth, John Dixon, DeeDee Jonrowe, Jake Berkowitz, Scott Janssen, Gus Guenther, Mike Santos, Linwood Fiedler, Lev Shvarts, Karen Ramstead, Ellen Halverson, Cindy Abbott, Jim Lanier, Jan Steves and Cindy Gallea.

– 2015 Iditarod:

In the 2015 Iditarod, twelve mushers dropped out before they could be tested for drugs at the White Mountain checkpoint. According to the Iditarod’s website, they are the following mushers: Bryan Bearss, Gwen Bogart, Zoya DeNure, Ellen Halverson, Scott Janssen, Katherine Keith, Jim Lanier, Christine Roalofs, Brent Sass, Gerald Sousa, Jan Steves and Philip Walters.

Mushers use of marijuana

Marijuana is easy to get:

– Alaska legalizes recreational marijuana:

“On Tuesday, voters approved Ballot Measure 2, an initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in Alaska, by about 52 percent in favor to 48 percent opposed, with 100 percent of the state’s precincts reporting.”

– Suzanna Caldwell and Laurel Andrews, Alaska Dispatch News, November 4, 2014

– Alaska legalizes uses of marijuana concentrates, derivatives, mixtures, resins:

Section 17.38.900. Definitions

“Marijuana” means all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis whether growing or not, the seeds thereof, the resin extracted from any part of the plant, and every compound, manufacture, salt , derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant, its seeds, or its resin, including marijuana concentrate.”

– Chapter 38. The regulation of marijuana, State of Alaska Division of Elections, website, 2014

– Marijuana concentrates can have THC levels as high as 85 percent:

[THC is the mind-altering ingredient found in marijuana.]

“Concentrates mean that marijuana that can have levels of THC as low as 23 percent is boosted to as much as 85 percent THC when it’s transformed into wax, honey oil and shatter, the DEA says.”

– Dennis Romero, LA Weekly, September 19, 2014

Mushers smoked marijuana in Iditarod before it was legalized in Alaska:

“[Lance] Mackey, a throat cancer survivor who has a medical marijuana card, admits to using marijuana on the trail….”

– Matias Saari, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, December 5, 2009

[Should the Iditarod have allowed Mackey to risk the safety of the dogs and of himself due to impaired judgment?]

“Alaska was no longer a pot smoker’s haven. As a result of the recriminalization measure adopted during the November general election, possession of small amounts of marijuana was now punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail. But cops weren’t patrolling the Iditarod Trail as [Tom] Daily and I shared a few puffs on the crest of a barren hill.”

– O’Donoghue, Brian Patrick. My Lead Dog was a Lesbian, New York, Vintage Books, 1996
– O’Donoghue was a reporter for the Fairbanks News-Miner

“While mushers have been known to blow marijuana smoke near their teams to calm the dogs, some suggest the testing program is aimed at the wrong group.

‘We joke that they should test more mushers than dogs,’ [Martin] Buser says.

– Douglas Robson, USA Today, March 10, 2008

Marijuana. Iditarod musher who tested positive for marijuana wasn't banned from the race. DEA photo.

Marijuana. Iditarod musher who tested positive for marijuana wasn’t banned from the race. DEA photo.

Musher who tested positive for marijuana wasn’t banned from Iditarod:

“Juneau musher Matt Giblin has been stripped of his 38th-place finish in the 2012 Iditarod after testing positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, race officials said Thursday.”

“An appeals board found that the veteran racer must repay the $1,049 he earned for finishing this year’s race, said Race Marshal Mark Nordman.”

– Kyle Hopkins, Anchorage Daily News, July 6, 2012

From the Sled Dog Action Coalition: The Iditarod could have made Matt Giblin ineligible from participating in future races, but they did not do so. Rule 30-Use of Drugs and Alcohol says “Alcohol or drug impairment, the use of prohibited drugs by mushers, and positive results on drug or alcohol tests, administered during a Race are prohibited. Violations of this policy shall result in disqualification from a particular Race, and may result in ineligibility from participation for a specified period of time in future Races.”