Pet owners using animals to get opioids, FDA warns

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(WFLA) – People may be hurting their pets in order to get prescription painkillers and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to stop them, CNN reports. 

As the scourge of opioid addiction takes its toll on millions of lives, veterinarians nationwide are being told to watch out for pet owners who could be abusing drugs.

“We recognize that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals—just as they do for people,”  FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Wednesday. “But just like the opioid medications used in humans, these drugs have potentially serious risks, not just for the animal patients, but also because of their potential to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.”

The FDA released a new guide for veterinarians who stock and administer opioids. It includes information on state and federal regulations, alternatives to opioids and how to properly safeguard and store drugs. It also tells them how to identify clients who may be abusing them. 

“These measures are in place to help ensure the critical balance between making sure animals can be humanely treated for their pain, while also addressing the realities of the epidemic of misuse, abuse and overdose when these drugs are diverted and used illegally by humans,” Gottlieb continued.

“While the limited data available suggests diversion from veterinary practices isn’t a widespread problem, that doesn’t mean we should pretend it doesn’t exist,” American Veterinary Medical Association spokesman Michael San Filippo said in a statement to CNN. “In fact, AVMA policy calls for further research to determine the prevalence of veterinary drug shoppers and to further clarify the degree to which veterinary prescriptions are impacting, or not, the human opioid epidemic.”

Gottlieb put out the statement one week after the American Journal of Public Health published a paper with data obtained from a survey of 189 veterinarians in Colorado, which was taken in 2016. The paper claims 13 percent of those surveyed were aware of an animal owner who had intentionally made an animal ill or injured, or seem to be ill or injured to obtain opioid medications, according to CNN. 

“We recognize that this sample, representing 10 percent of the society’s members, has limited generalizability and cannot be used to extrapolate to all practices. Nonetheless, these data are sufficient to warrant immediate action,” the authors said in the paper.

The survey also claimed 44 percent of veterinarians were aware of opioid abuse or misuse by either a client or a veterinary practice staff member. Only 62 percent believed that they had a role in preventing opioid abuse and misuse, the network reported.

“I was thrilled to see the FDA commissioner make a statement that not only validated our findings but also demonstrates why research is so important for good policy,” Liliana Tenney, a senior instructor at the Colorado School of Public Health and co-author of the paper told the news network. “If this is truly the case and pet owners are intentionally harming animals, that’s an animal rights issue. If opioids are being prescribed and aren’t getting to the pets that need them because these drugs are being diverted, that’s a public health issue.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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