"Frog Juice" Powers Race-Horse Cheating
South America's waxy monkey tree frog carries an astonishing secret—one that's put to a no-good use in the US.
All it takes is a gentle squeeze to the latero-dorsal portion of the South American waxy monkey tree frog and out comes a painkiller 40 times stronger than morphine. It's called dermorphin and it's showing up in the systems of race horses across the South. The powerful drug is used to dull the chronic pain that so often accompanies life as a race horse, and allows the animals to run harder and faster. A lab in Denver recently produced the first positive tests for the previously undetectable drug after tweaking its substance testing. More than 30 horses from four states had the substance in their systems. Given the difficulty in obtaining dermorphin from frogs, Craig W. Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University, tells the New York Times that the stuff showing up in horses is probably artificial: "There’s a lot out there, and that would be an awful lot of frogs that would have to be squeezed," he says. The development of a working test for dermorphin makes it possible to demonstrate how well the stuff works. Among the four thoroughbreds that tested positive in Louisiana, three won races in May—and the fourth came in second. "A lot of money’s got to be given back," says Charles A. Gardiner III, executive director of the Louisiana Racing Commission.