Unnamed Iditarod musher denies giving sled dogs a prohibited drug

The Iditarod Official Finishers Club president sent a statement to mushers Wednesday on behalf of the unnamed competitor whose dogs, race officials said, tested positive for tramadol, a prohibited pain reliever, in the 2017 race.

The statement does not name the competitor, referring to him or her as "Musher X."

Wade Marrs, president of the Iditarod Official Finishers Club, said the musher wrote the seven-paragraph statement. He declined to name the musher.

The statement tells the story of what happened after the race's finish in Nome from the side of the unnamed musher who, it says, insisted to race officials that he or she did not give the dogs tramadol.

The statement comes a day after the Iditarod Trail Committee issued a press release that named the drug that "several" sled dogs on a 2017 team tested positive for, and said the dogs tested positive after finishing the race in Nome.

While it's known those dogs finished in one of the top 20 teams, the identity of the musher who competed with the dogs remains unknown. Race officials have refused to provide the musher's name, citing "legal concerns." They have said they cannot prove the musher's intent, so they cannot penalize the musher under the 2017 race rules, which they have since revised.

[Iditarod says dogs on a 2017 team tested positive for prohibited pain reliever]


The statement Wednesday that was provided to mushers who have finished the Iditarod and obtained by Alaska Dispatch News said Musher X was contacted by the race marshal after the race and told of the positive drug tests.

"Over the course of the next few weeks and communications with the Race Marshall, Musher X insisted they did not use or administer this substance to their team, and repeatedly offered to submit to a polygraph, and complied fully with all requests," the statement said.

Chas St. George, race spokesman, said in an email Wednesday evening that he had not seen the statement, so he could not yet comment. Other race officials — including the race marshal, chief executive and chief veterinarian — did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment about the statement.

The statement said the race marshal told Musher X that the level of tramadol shown on the dogs' drug tests indicated the drug was likely given after the team finished the race.

"Accordingly, Musher X was determined unlikely to have administered a drug to their own dogs. Musher X was led to believe that the Head Veterinarian and Race Marshall suspected either an accident or possibly foul play in the Nome dog lot or food bags," the statement said. "They assured Musher X the issue was over, no further action was necessary, and that measures were being taken to increase security of the food drops, checkpoints, and the Nome dog yard."

But last week, the Iditarod Trail Committee board of directors referenced the positive drug test when it announced revisions to the race rules.

The statement Wednesday said in doing so, the board "implicated the top 20 mushers, all of whom are now faced with the impossible task of proving they didn't do something with no clarification from the Iditarod Trail Committee."

The statement also called the handling of the drug tests "deeply flawed." It said race officials did not test another urine sample with the musher present to confirm the results, and said there were issues with labeling.

"Since not one single drug test has been concluded as no B test has been performed, and the investigation cleared the musher in question, no musher should be considered guilty of anything, and any speculation is strictly conjecture," the statement said.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.