By | 2018-08-24
How Opioid Crisis Plays Out in Veterinary Practice

Drug overdoses killed 63,632 people in the United States in 2016 and nearly 66 percent of these were attributed to prescription or illicit opioids. While people across states are burdened by the menace, how this epidemic relate to the veterinary field is yet to be explored fully. According to Dr. Larry J. Nieman, co-owner of the veterinary consulting firm Essential Elements, veterinarians prescribe opioids for pets, but they cannot do so for humans. Vets do not prescribe two of the highly abused opioids, oxycodone and fentanyl. However, these opioids do affect pets, their owners and veterinary teams. Some of these ways are as below: Opioid abuse in pet owners: Tramadol is one of the most common opioids prescribed by the veterinarians and abused by pet owners. Pet owners requesting an opioid by its name from the vet raises suspicion, especially when the pet doesn’t have a condition for which a drug would be normally required. Some owners request for a refill at the pretext of having spilled the drug and some even harm their pets to get the drug of choice. The owners also do doctor shopping implying that they take their pet to different vets to get the prescription filled. When a person indulges in such behavior, it’s a clear sign that he/she is in need of drug abuse recovery programs at good addiction rehab facilities. Risk of pet overdose: In September 2017, a resident of Massachusetts took his dog for a walk. The pet started chewing on a pack of cigarettes and after walking for some steps, it collapsed. It was immediately rushed to a vet hospital and given naloxone to revive it. A pet overdose case can also arise from drugs stored in open at home. Therefore, one must be vigilant while storing drugs safely as they can harm both children and pets. Abuse by veterinary teams: Veterinarians experience a high level of stress at their workplace. In addition, there are a dearth of drug testing tools, proper drug control practices and employee-assistant programs because of which they are at a high risk of abusing opioids under stress. Proper screening measures are indispensable to ensure that there is no drug abuse at workplaces. Legal responses: Many states are drafting and signing control measures to combat the opioid epidemic. In Maine, physicians and veterinarians have to access statewide database known as Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) prior to prescribing opioids or benzodiazepines. In NJ, opioids can be initially prescribed for a period of five days. The Garden States pharmacies are required to share the prescription data which is shared with 14 other states. Veterinarians who prescribe tramadol and oxycodone are required to access the PMP in NJ. New York and Massachusetts have put a limit of seven days. Road to recovery Veterinarians have been hesitant in using the state PMPs. However, they urge that they must be at the table when regulations pertaining to the opioids are drafted. They should also receive continuing education and training pertaining to opioid use so that they can minimize the abuse in their profession. When prescribing opioids for external use, veterinarians should make sure they understand and comply with the strictest state and federal standards. When vets prescribe opioids for external use they should be clear enough to understand and comply with state and federal standards, and work as contributors in reducing the risks.