May 5th, 2017 | ASAH Team
The opioid epidemic continues unabated in the United States. In 2015, over 33,000 Americans died as a result of opioid overdoses. The widespread abuse of opioids has led to a crackdown on indiscriminate prescription of painkillers by physicians and health care providers, making it more difficult for people to obtain drugs. To circumvent this problem, habitual drug users have been using some unusual (and often worrisome) means to get their fix of drugs.
In recent years, veterinarians have started examining pets more carefully to look for signs of purposefully inflicted injury. They suspect that some pet owners are either misusing drugs which are prescribed to cats, dogs and other pets, or deliberately and recurrently wounding the animals to obtain drugs. Such individuals then resort to “vet shopping,” whereby they take their pets to multiple vets in the hope of obtaining prescription medication, which is ultimately intended to be used by the pet owners.
James A. Arnold, Section Chief, Liaison & Policy Section at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), confirms such instances and mentions that the DEA is aware of it. According to him, the worsening of the opioid problem in the U.S. is compelling people to use any possible means to obtain such controlled drugs to satiate their cravings.
Till some years ago, vets were instructed to undertake a thorough examination of pets to check for signs of recurring injuries. They are now being told to carefully observe pet owners as well. The objective is to identify inconsistencies in owners’ responses and behavior. Vets are also inclined to be very careful in taking up new cases of pet treatments, since they typically tend to be those where individuals are attempting to obtain drugs illicitly by using their pets. Questionable situations include instances of misplaced prescriptions, or asking for more medicines before they are finished or in case of new and deliberate injuries.
Vets are also suspicious when they get requests for medicines by name. One such example, Tramadol, is an inexpensive, oral painkiller that produces an effect similar to morphine. It is not classified as a controlled substance and hence, not monitored in the same manner as other opiates. Accordingly, vets are very careful in prescribing the drug. Pet owners use several drug diversion techniques to obtain prescription medicines which they are addicted to, such as training a dog to cough in the presence of the vet so that it can be prescribed cough syrup containing hydrocodone.
Vets often get calls from other vet clinics warning them about potential vet shoppers. They call local clinics in the vicinity to verify if the same pet has visited them. Identification of such cases is reported to law enforcement or district/state officials.
States such as Ohio have enacted a law which imposes stiff penalties in the case of cruelty to companion animals such as cats and dogs. Several states participate in Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), which are electronic databases for monitoring data regarding controlled prescription drugs to patients. However, most states do not require vets to report such data. Some vets think of this as a needless burden which will prevent them from concentrating on their primary duty of tending to animals.
There are concerns that making it a legal mandate for vets to check the state’s PDMP database before writing a pet prescription is time-consuming an invasion of privacy. Others argue that any step which reduces drug abuse is worth pursuing, and legally mandating vets’ participation in PDMPs may end drug diversion and animal abuse.
Identifying evident signs of drug diversion and vet shopping is the best starting point to ensure safety for pets as well as pet owners. The fact that prescription drugs can be easily acquired calls for strict actions in taking preventive measures and expanding treatment options. Addiction can prove to be fatal at times.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction to prescription drugs or other substances, contact the Arizona Substance Abuse Helpline for help. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-857-5777 or chat online with our representatives to know about the best substance abuse treatment centers in Arizona.