With the opioid epidemic intensifying, much of the regulatory attention has been focused on pharmaceutical companies and prescribing health care providers. But recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a notice to veterinarians to keep an eye out for any drug-seeking behavior from pet owners.

Recent survey shines light on opioid-driven animal abuse

In a shocking article written by Avery Artman from the Colorado School of Public Health, veterinarians in Colorado have accused some pet owners of intentionally hurting their pets in order to obtain prescription painkillers.

The FDA’s new warning addresses the need for appropriate prescribing protocols amongst veterinarians as desperate people seek more creative ways to obtain powerful opioids such as morphine, oxycodone, or hydrocodone. Since, roughly 40% of opioid deaths involved a prescription opioid, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb is not overlooking veterinary clinics – especially since veterinarians must be licensed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to prescribe controlled substances.

Recent findings suggest that tramadol, which is metabolized by both humans and animals alike, is the most targeted opioid within veterinary practices. On the other hand, veterinarians are big prescribers of synthetic opioids, a leading factor in the rapid increase in deaths from opioid-related drug overdoses. The most common synthetic opioid is fentanyl and is responsible for nearly 50% of all overdose deaths

As such, health officials are lobbying for improved monitoring, more detailed logs, and effective educational resources. Unfortunately, opioid diversion and misuse is not new. However, pet owners aren’t the only ones at your local veterinary clinic under scrutiny.

Prevalence of abuse within veterinary practices

According to the American Animal Hospital Association and a new Colorado survey, an estimated 45% of veterinarians know of a client or colleague who is abusing opioids. And it’s numbers like these that urged Dr. Scott Gottlieb to issue out his veterinarian sanctions.

Authors of the article “Prescription Opioid Epidemic: Do Veterinarians Have a Dog in the Fight?” dove head first into this topic. Vexed by the lack of data within veterinary medicine communities, Derek S. Mason and his team – comprised of Liliana Tenney, Peter W. Hellyer, and Lee S. Newman – collaborated with a local veterinary society to learn more. Their subsequent research led to the three categorical recommendations for improvement:

  • Surveillance. An increase in compliance here is necessary since veterinary practices don’t order through the same commercial pharmacies that other prescribing providers do. This difference in supply-chain suggests a need for proper inventory tracking and higher quality controls in order to reduce the risk of diversion.
  • Education. More resources need to be developed to spread awareness on the effect of opioids in order to bolster safety efforts. Prevention strategies should include the implementation of training protocols, manuals, and continuing education services.
  • Academic Research. Mason et al.’s work has highlighted an apparent gap in research on this topic. The authors of the aforementioned work are calling for an additional allotment of funds in order to better assess the fundamental systems at work within the veterinary medical community.

In response to these needs, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine published a list of resources for veterinarians to beef-up their compliance. These suggestions include following all federal and state regulations on prescribing opioids, using alternative approaches for pain management in animals, as well as illustrating what potential opioid abuse looks like in a client.

What about the pets?

Opponents to Gottlieb’s regulations argue that it hamstrings the ability for veterinarians to provide comprehensive, pain-free care to pets. With roughly $70 billion spent on our pets in the U.S. in 2018, this isn’t a subtle consequence. As drug manufacturers limit production and distributors apportion supplies for human health, veterinary practitioners and, ultimately, your beloved furry-friends are left feel the effects.

Consequently, pets are subject to unnecessary pain and discomfort during procedures as shortages limit therapeutic options. An article published on Business Wire in September 2018, explains the repercussions of the DEA’s control efforts as observed on a Wedgewood Pharmacy Survey. Some effects listed include an increase in pet deaths, an increase in non-narcotic yet less effective alternatives, and an increase in associated costs.

In sum, the opioid epidemic isn’t just affecting those suffering from addiction or their prescribing doctor. It’s coming to the door of the benign, everyday pet owner. Who’s next?

Opioid addiction resources

If you or a loved one is suffering from opioid addiction, please call our Admissions Specialist at (817) 993-9733 or visit our Contact Us page for more details on getting you equipped with the tools to achieve long-term sobriety. Stonegate Center offers our clients a highly-individualized treatment plan designed to not just treat the symptoms of your pain, but rather the source. For other resources and information, please visit the following:

Resources like the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) are adapting to this news in hopes of combating the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs. Despite some PDMP variations, states are enacting more stringent requirements across-the-board to slow the supply of these highly-addictive painkillers. For more information or current events surrounding the legislature of prescription drugs, please subscribe to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ newsletter. Additionally, detailed reports on overdose deaths caused by opioids, cocaine, and psychostimulants within the United States can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Date Published: April 18, 2019 Last Updated: October 1, 2023

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Stonegate Center is a private faith-based and gender-separate rehab center located in Azle, Texas. We offer long-term residential addiction treatment for men and women struggling with drug & alcohol addiction. Our rehab center serves the communities of Fort Worth, Dallas, and as far as Oklahoma & New Mexico.

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