Posted on May 14, 2017
Impacts of Opioid Abuse On the Veterinary Profession
If you pay attention to the news, you’re aware of the growing problem of opioid addiction within the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 33,000 opioid-related deaths in 2015 with West Virginia having the highest rate followed by New Hampshire, Kentucky, Ohio, and Rhode Island.
How does opioid abuse impact the world of veterinary medicine? Certainly there are veterinarians who struggle with opioid addiction, a topic for another article. This post focuses on the fact that, as opioid prescribers, veterinarians and veterinary hospitals are viewed as potential supply sources for addicts. Theft is a problem as is the issue of pet owners taking narcotics prescribed for their pets. There are too many cases of lies and scams, and some addicts have even gone so far as to maim their own pets in order to obtain a pain medication prescription.
Kentuckian Heather Pereira used a razor blade on two separate occasions to cut her dog with the goal of leaving the vet hospital with drugs. Dr. Chad Bailey, the veterinarian who stitched up Pereira’s retriever became suspicious when she returned to the clinic three days after the first visit for more pills. She claimed that her child flushed them down the toilet. It was discovered that Pereira has no children, and she was convicted of trying to obtain controlled substances by fraud.
When two Plainfield, Illinois veterinarians got together, the conversation happened to include challenges with clients. One of the vets talked about a client who was suspiciously trying to refill a tramadol prescription for her dog (tramadol is a commonly abused pain medication). On one occasion, the client claimed that the airlines lost her dog’s drugs and she then requested an early script renewal for an extended trip she would be making to assist her mother with cancer treatment. It dawned on the second veterinarian that this individual had been running the same exact scam on her.
In Ashland, Ohio Dr. Kristine LaFever became suspicious when a young couple came in requesting tramadol by name for their dog. They refused the drugs Dr. LaFever recommended and left the hospital empty-handed. A week or so later Dr. Donald Kaeser arrived for work at the same clinic and found the control drug safe had been pried open and all of the tramadol and phenobarbital (an anti-seizure medication) was missing. Through blood left at the scene, the DNA trail led police to the tramadol-demanding couple, one of whom was sentenced to two years in prison. The other was placed under house arrest for 120 days. The clinic has not replaced the stolen tramadol. “We’ve gone to not carrying it,” Kaeser said. “If we think a pet needs it, we’ll just call in a prescription.”
An additional opioid-related problem that appears to be on the rise is overdose cases amongst pets. More and more, animals are being treated for accidental and, in some cases, intentional overdoses. Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles has observed, “We do see a lot of cases where the dogs are overdosing because either they’re getting into the stuff or edibles, or idiots think it’s funny to get their dog high or to share their heroin with their dog.” Bernstein deems this to be animal abuse and works hard to get offenders prosecuted.
Guidelines for Veterinary Prescription Drugs
The American Veterinary Medical Association has been paying close attention to the rapidly growing problems associated with human drug addiction and veterinary prescriptions. The organization’s Guidelines for Veterinary Prescription Drugs states, “Veterinary prescription drugs should be dispensed only in quantities required for the treatment of the animal(s) for which the drugs are dispensed. Avoid unlimited refills of prescriptions or any other activity that might result in misuse of drugs.”
Veterinarians are being advised to carefully track control drug prescriptions and actively perform audits (pill counts) on the medications they keep on site. By law, all controlled drugs should be under lock and key 24/7.
Additionally, veterinarians are being asked to formally report clients they suspect of abusing drugs prescribed for their pets. Sgt. Paul Rodriguez with the Los Angeles Police Department provides some guidelines. “We have to have a little more than just a hunch. A veterinarian reporting someone coming in for the same prescription three times in one month is a tip police can use to investigate further and actually send a detective to go and do some follow up questioning.“
Most veterinarians I know pay really close attention to recommended prescription drug guidelines. They don’t want to jeopardize their careers, and a problem relating to controlled drugs (missing pills, pill audit discrepancies, prescribing more than seems reasonable) can do just that.
Have you ever shared your pet’s medications, or vice versa?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at http://www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.