Iditarod Dogs Test Positive For Opioid Pain Reliever

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The committee that oversees the 1000-mile Iditarod sled dog race announced yesterday that up to four dogs tested positive for a banned substance after they finished this year's race. The dogs were all on the same team. The musher has not spoken publicly and denies knowing anything about it. Emily Schwing of the Northwest News Network has more.

EMILY SCHWING, BYLINE: The banned drug Tramadol would allow sled dogs to run through pain. It's an opioid that can cause drowsiness. And some mushers have never heard of it.

JEFF KING: The fact that no one's ever heard about it doesn't mean that someone wouldn't do it.

SCHWING: Jeff King has won the Iditarod four times, and he's finished in the top 20 two dozen times. Trying to figure out exactly what happened is what he calls a double-edged sword.

KING: I think it's just as unimaginable that someone would lace someone else's food as it would be for someone to intentionally drug their dogs.

SCHWING: But those are the scenarios the Iditarod Trail Committee is considering. Race officials haven't named the musher because they say they can't prove intent. Wade Marrs represents mushers on the race's board of directors. He says the drug could have been administered any time along the trail in the last 70 miles of the race or even after the team finished.

WADE MARRS: The thing that points it in the direction of the musher not doing it is where it happened and the amount of drug that was given. And they would have to be pretty unknowledgeable to give this drug knowing that there is going to be a test shortly after.

SCHWING: The top 20 finishing teams are drug tested after they cross the finish line. The positive results for Tramadol this year have not prompted the trail committee to change this year's results. But they have clarified race rule number 39 regarding canine drug use. Beginning in 2018, mushers will be held liable unless they can provide clear and convincing evidence that a positive drug test resulted from causes completely beyond their control. Mushers are now raising concerns about race sponsorships and security when it comes to their drop bags, which are filled with the dog food the race organization ships to check points along the trail prior to the race start. For NPR News, I'm Emily Schwing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.