By Kimberly French
They are about two to three inches long, bask in the sun by day and track down insects by night. They walk rather than hopping and are native to the dry prairie of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Known scientifically as phyllomedusa sauvagii, the waxy monkey leaf frog or painted belly leaf frog is often kept as a pet and although these frogs have a careful, calm demeanor, they produce a substance called dermorphin, which is a painkiller 40 times the strength of morphine, and has been responsible for a rash of recent positive drug tests in Quarter Horse and lower-level Thoroughbred races. The waxy monkey leaf frog and its secretion have enough notoriety to be mentioned in a Paul Simon song, Senorita With A Necklace of Tears. “A frog in South America whose venom is the cure for all the suffering mankind must endure,” he sang. “More powerful than morphine and soothing as the rain. A frog in South American has the antidote for pain.” As mentioned earlier, dermorphin is extremely potent but does not seem to be as addictive as morphine and is classified by Racing Commissioners International as a Class One drug. It has no therapeutic value whatsoever. Craig W. Stevens, a professor of pharmacology at Oklahoma State University who has studied dermorphin, told the New York Times on June 19 the substance makes animals “hyper.” “For a racehorse it would be beneficial,” he said. “The animal wouldn’t feel pain and it would have feelings of excitation and euphoria.” Located in Denver, Colorado, Industrial Laboratories was the first lab to definitively ascertain dermorphin in postrace testing after clients passed along information from racetrack workers that the frog secretion was being used and some materials confiscated on the backstretch were actually demorphin. “We identified dermorphin,” Petra Hartmann, director of direct testing services for Industrial Laboratories told the New York Times. “We knew it was out there. There is no...
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