Veterinarians watchful for opioid users getting meds through their pets

Local News

The fight against opioid abuse is moving from the doctor’s office to the veterinarian’s office.

That’s because people are using the family pet to try and get painkillers for themselves.

It’s happened at veterinary clinics around the valley.

“It’s gotten hyped up and gotten more on our radar in terms of worries probably for the last five years,” said Fresno veterinarian Dr. Chris Dobbins. 

He runs an emergency hospital in northwest Fresno. And says people have called the hospital asking for painkiller prescriptions for their pets. They’ve even brought the animal in saying the dog or cat is in pain.

“The owners may sometimes say, ‘Oh it seems to be in a lot more pain than usual.’ Or ‘It does this at home.’ And we can’t elicit that kind of pain and document it. So there have been little things like that have come up in the past that we’ve had some red flags about,” Dobbins said.

Doctors at Fresno Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center have also dealt with owners seeking pain killers. They’ve developed a policy to address that.

“If it’s a situation where a pet has a chronic condition and they do need chronic medications we try to send them to their family veterinarian so they can establish that relationship, so we don’t have to deal with quite so many drug seekers here,” said Dr. Katherine Burt with Fresno Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center.

Both hospitals deal with emergency cases.

“Unfortunately most of the things that come into the emergency hospital are painful: whether they got hit by a car, they got attacked, they fell from something, they impaled themselves, they got a laceration, a dog fight. So there’s a lot of reasons we use pain medications here in the ER,” Dobbins said.

Veterinarians face strict requirements for using opioids and other painkillers.

Dobbins’ hospital has a machine that dispenses the medicine – as needed.

“So it’s getting the controlled drug and it’s all individually. You can’t get into anything else,” Dobbins said.

It’s built like a safe and bolted into the cabinet.

“And it takes our fingerprint. So each person, it’s time, date stamped, and exactly who took it out,” Dobbins said.

Veterinarians have to report each time they dispense a controlled medication – like opioids – to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)., along with the owner and the pet’s information.

veterinarians say because there are so many restrictions for opioids… and the potential for abuse… they’re switching to new non-steroidal anti-inflammatories – or n-saids.

“So that market has really expanded. And I think a large part of it is because of the need to try to back away from the opioids and a lot of these pain medications,” Dobbins said.

Experts say if your pet is on painkillers it’s important to keep the painkillers locked up, or stored safely, so those in your household can’t get access to them.

If you have leftover opioids or painkillers that were prescribed for your pet, you dispose of them the same way you would human medications. You can place them in one of the prescription drop boxes at police and sheriff’s departments in the valley. Or call your local law enforcement agency to see when their next Prescription Take Back Day is scheduled.

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