Pet Owners are Injuring Animals to Feed Their Opioid Addiction
A recent survey published in the American Journal of Public Health indicates that some pet owners are hurting their animals because of their addiction to opioids. In injuring their furry friends, addicts are able to obtain the prescriptions they need. And, the veterinarians they are turning to when their pets need medical attention may also be abusing opioids or helping to sell them illegally.
Study author Liliana Tenney, a public health researcher at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, helped develop an online training program to educate physicians about proper opioid prescription use nearly a decade ago. Her work on this program inspired her to take a deeper delve into the issue, eventually presenting evidence that addicts are using their pets to fuel their addiction before the Board of Veterinary Medicine. “The presentation was the first time they had even ever heard of this issue,” said Tenney.
After that, she and her team decided to collaborate with the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association to better understand the scope of opioid abuse in the industry. In 2016, they sent out an online survey to roughly 200 veterinary group members asking questions related to any opioid misuse they may have noticed in their practice.
Thirteen percent of physician-responders said they had encountered at least one client who appeared to have injured a pet or made an animal seem to be injured in order to get an opioid prescription. A whopping forty-four percent of those who responded said they were aware of opioid abuse or misuse by either a client or a veterinary staff member. Twelve percent said they knew of staff who were illegally selling their supply to dealers. Despite these disturbing statistics, only 62 percent believed they had a role in preventing opioid abuse, while 40 percent were unsure if opioid abuse was even an issue in their local community.
“Our research suggests that this is a serious omission and must be addressed,” Tenney and her team wrote in the editorial packaged with their findings. They believe part of the issue is lack of education on the matter. Three-quarters of vets said their medical school training on opioids was either mediocre, poor, or non-existent. Sixty-four percent responded said they had not received any additional training since they started practicing.
Others, according to Tenney, want to help, but don’t know how. “In conversations with these doctors, they often ask: ‘Well, what do we do? We need to treat pets who are in pain, but we also need to know how to identify and handle suspicious behavior,’” she said. “But there’s not a lot of resources or training right now to direct these veterinarians.”
All Colorado medical providers, including veterinary clinics, who stock opioids must disclose their prescription purchases via an online reporting system designed to reduce the propensity for fueling the addiction. However, despite this requirement, many have chosen not to. Tenney says there needs to be more pressure placed on vets to report regularly, and an easier to use system may be helpful. She and her team are currently working on a more reliable way to track these purchases.