The opioid crisis is largely due to prescription opioid medications or painkillers. In fact, pet owners have started using their pets as a way to get veterinarians to sign off on an opioid prescription.
Opioid Abuse In Veterinary Medicine
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearly states that prescription opioids can potentially cause serious risks for those who abuse them. Some of the pain-reducing medications that have contributed to the opioid epidemic include hydrocodone, fentanyl and tramadol. Those who visit their veterinarian may receive medications like buprenorphine for their pets, which is an opioid approved for cats. Veterinarians prescribing opioids to animals may be taken advantage of by pet owners with opioid use disorder.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has regulations regarding controlled substances that veterinary clinics in eighteen states must follow. The states that participate in prescription drug monitoring programs include:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
However, some veterinary practices follow more than just federal regulations. Some veterinarians look at the animal patient’s previous medical history to determine if the pet owner may be participating in drug abuse.
Stolen Pain Medications
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) must be notified if prescription medications are stolen from a veterinary clinic, including theft by staff members. Veterinarians who prescribe opioids for pain management may have a safety plan in effect due to opioid incidents that can occur—a person addicted to opioids may go to drastic lengths to obtain the drug.
Safety Concerns For Pets
There have been instances where pet owners will purposefully hurt their animal in order to get pain medication from their local veterinarian. As AVMA notes, a woman in Kentucky confessed to cutting her dog with razor blades in order to get prescription painkillers to use for herself.
In addition, pet owners who are addicted to opioids may neglect their animal in the following ways:
- Forgetting to give their pet food and water.
- Forgetting to take the pet outdoors.
- Intentionally harming the pet.
- Leaving the pet outdoors for too long without water.
- Accidentally leaving their pet in a hot car.
A Veterinarian’s Role
Veterinarians play an important role in monitoring opioid use. These professionals may take notice of any signs of animal abuse or neglect and may be one of the first to discover that a person is abusing the prescribed medications.
Veterinary practices that prescribe medications likely do not use commercial pharmacies. Because of this, it’s important for veterinarians to do the following:
- Stock and manage the opioid inventory, always keeping medications behind locks.
- Put accountability measures in place, such as double-checking the inventory count.
- Require employees to take training courses to learn more about opioid policies and procedures.
- Have a safety plan in place for when potential opioid abusers insist their animal needs medication.
Veterinarians can also watch out for common signs of potential opioid abuse in pet owners, which may include:
- Inquiring about specific opioid medications by name.
- A new client bringing in a pet with suspicious injuries (raising the alarm that the owner harmed their pet to obtain opioids).
- Asking for refills because the medications were lost or stolen.
- Continuing to request an opioid prescription for their pet.
Veterinarians are urged to contact their local police department if they encounter threatening customers or need assistance.
Warning Signs Of Opioid Abuse
While these medications are used to control pain, they are also heavily abused. Knowing the warning signs of opioid misuse can prevent opioid overdose and curb this ongoing public health crisis.
In addition to signs of animal mistreatment or frequent visits to the veterinarian, an opioid abuser may:
- Be forgetful and not follow through with plans.
- Steal items or money from friends or relatives.
- Have poor hygiene.
- Develop financial difficulties.
- Have frequent flu-like symptoms.
If you or a loved one struggles with opioid abuse, call our helpline at 1-800-526-5053 to learn about our substance abuse treatment options. +