As news that four-time Iditarod champion Dallas Seavey’s dogs failed drug test makes its way around the world, many are wondering: What exactly is Tramadol?

Tramadol is one of 375 substances the Iditarod tests dog teams for, according to Iditarod CEO Stan Hooley.

“It’s a very detailed program with many steps along the way,” Hooley said about the drug testing process. “It continues to be refined each year we go forward.”

The Food and Drug Administration classifies it as a Schedule IV opioid that’s meant to treat moderate or chronic pain. It’s a controlled substance that needs a prescription, and clinics need to keep distribution records.

Tramadol is approved for use in both people and animals, but prescriptions are not interchangeable.

Dr. Bob Sept has the drug in his Bering Sea Animal Clinic in Chugiak but rarely prescribes it. As far as pain relievers go, he said it’s not the best.

“In clinical use, I think it's favorability has fallen off. It has mostly a sedative effect in dogs and a fairly poor analgesic effect,” Dr. Sept explained. “That's because dogs lack the receptors that people have for it to be effective as an analgesic (pain-relieving) drug.”

Sept is no stranger to the Iditarod Trail. His work with the race began in 1979, and he was the head veterinarian for several years.

In 2000, the Iditarod awarded him the Golden Stethoscope for his “tireless care of the sled dogs and for morale of the mushers.”

In his experience, Tramadol offers no competitive advantage and he doesn’t think Seavey would intentionally use it.

“I think it's a weak hitter. When I heard about it I thought anyone bright and intelligent and competitive would never use that drug during a race,” Sept said.

Big Lake musher Rick Casillo said he also doubts Seavey would drug his own team. Casillo said he’s had dogs prescribed Tramadol after surgery but said the drug has no place in the Last Great Race.

“We have so much time, so much money invested into one animal. We are not going to jeopardize that dog’s career for something as ridiculous as this,” Casillo said.

He said there needs to be an investigation into how the drug got to the dogs. While he hasn’t ruled out sabotage, Casillo said he doesn’t believe it was another musher who doped Seavey’s team.

“Their (the dogs’) diets are so perfect and so calculated, there’s no way we’re going to put an opioid in a dog’s system-- [it's] not going to happen,” Casillo said.

Dr. Sept said Tramadol has notorious side effects like vomiting and anxiety, which wouldn’t fair well in racing dogs.

“If you want to give it to them after a race for a sedative effect then possibly, but if you're really looking for pain relief, there's much better medications for anti-inflammatory and pain relief,” he said.

While Dr. Sept and others aren’t questioning the veracity of the drug test, they want to know, if it wasn’t Seavey, who gave Tramadol to the dog team?

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