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Abusing Your Pets’ Medications: The Dangers of Pet Prescriptions

The idea of people using their pet’s drugs to get high or treat illness may sound a bit strange, but some people are doing just that. Over the years, there have been reports of people going into veterinarians’ offices to seek pet pain medications for themselves, authorities say. The veterinarian, however, is usually not aware of the purpose of their client’s visit, at least not a first. 

This trend has emerged during the United States’ years-long battle against an opioid epidemic that has led to record numbers of addiction and overdose deaths since 2016. Ketamine, tramadol, and Valium are among the drugs some people have sought out from veterinarians, who prescribe opioid medications to help the animals in their care, according to a Washington Post article on the topic. 

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic prescription drug used to sedate animal and human patients before surgery. Tramadol is an opioid medication that treats moderate-to-severe pain, and Valium (diazepam) is a benzodiazepine, a prescription medication given to people to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and seizures.

“They’ve gotten very sophisticated in how they obtain drugs and go about their activities,” Jim Arnold, chief of policy and liaison for the diversion control division at the Drug Enforcement Administration, told the New York Post for its 2017 report on the topic. The article highlights how far some people are willing to go to abuse pet medication, including owners who maim their animals just so they could take them to an animal hospital and get pet medications for their own use.

U.S. Fighting Opioid Addiction, Overdose Epidemic

For several years now, opioid addiction remains among the biggest public health challenges the United States has faced in recent times. For several years, the nation’s public health specialists, scientists, public figures, and law enforcement have joined forces to address the national public health emergency that has led to tens of thousands of overdose deaths and addictions. 

Nearly 68,000 people in the U.S. died from opioids in 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that opioids were the main driver of overdose deaths that year.

Opioids are a class of highly potent and addictive drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as prescription opioids, as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports. The drug group also includes prescription medications such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, methadone, and others.

The pull of opioid addiction on some people is enough to make them seek out other supplies when they no longer have access to their drug of choice. In some cases, some veterinarian offices have reported break-ins by people who desperately want drugs to satisfy their cravings, as this Vice article notes.

Why People Seek Out Pet Medications 

People who get opioid medication from the vet’s office intend to use the drugs by themselves or with other drugs for stronger effects. Medication prescribed to the animals is the same as the medication humans take; the only difference is the dosage, Susan Curtis of the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association told the Boston Globe for its article on the topic.  

“Opioids are the most powerful pain-relieving compounds available for pets, and are often used for acute pain,” writes pet website 1800PetMeds.com. The medications are prescribed in lower doses to manage chronic pain in pets. Veterinarians may use two or three of them to treat their animal patients because of the lower dosage. 

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Why Taking Pet Meds Is Not a Good Idea

There are reasons why medications for animals differ from those designed for human use. As with any drug, it is advised that you do not take any drug without a doctor’s approval, even if it’s over-the-counter in some cases. If a person is taking their pet’s antibiotics to treat an infection, that is not only the inappropriate medication for it; it’s also dangerous to do. The antibiotic designed for animal use can contain harmful chemicals and ingredients that pose a risk to humans’ health, as Healthline reports.

Taking an antibiotic too frequently can make you resistant to the drug, which could spell trouble in the future.

Identifying Pet Medication Abuse

It can be challenging to know when someone is using pet medications illegally, especially for veterinarians who may just be focused on treating the animal.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has underscored veterinarians’ role in helping curb the illegal use of opioids. As it has become apparent that people addicted to opioids will go to great lengths to abuse substances, the federal agency has issued guidance to veterinarians about the steps they can take to ensure pet medications are used responsibly and for the purposes they were intended.

“While opioids are a small part of the veterinarian’s medical arsenal for treating pain in animals, stocking and administering these drugs also makes it important for veterinarians to understand how they can help combat the abuse and misuse of pain medications,” it writes.

The FDA warns veterinarians that the following actions could signal pet medication abuse:

  • Suspect injuries in a new patient (This could include sudden or abnormal injuries or wounds that are suspicious, especially on animals who are normally nonviolent or nonaggressive.)
  • Asking for specific medications by name
  • Asking for refills for lost or stolen medications
  • A pet owner who is insistent in their request for medicines

A person may also be abusing pet medications if they:

  • Frequently request medications for a pet who doesn’t appear ill
  • Frequently visit the veterinarian’s office for refills shortly after receiving the prescription
  • A person living in the home notices that pet medication goes missing unexpectedly

Some animal doctors may want to look a bit further into behavior that does not add up, such as noticing that an animal isn’t improving or showing any change since being prescribed medications. There also have been reports of some pet owners with opioid addiction injuring their pets to fraudulently obtain drugs, a practice known as “vet shopping” or “doggy doctor shopping.”

The FDA has urged medical staff in veterinarians’ offices across the U.S to follow opioid prescribing practices as human doctors do and teach patients how to properly store and discard pet medications when they are no longer using them.

How to Know If Someone Is Abusing Pet Medications

The FDA also has issued guidance to veterinarians to also help them recognize if other veterinary staff is using pet opioid medications. Those signs, which are similar to signs of drug abuse among humans who use drugs, are:

  • Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Mental confusion and an inability to concentrate
  • Making frequent mistakes at work
  • Frequent absences from work

Getting Help for Substance Addiction

If someone is abusing any drug at work or at home, whether it is for animals or humans, it is a sign that they need help. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain that does not improve over time without the proper treatment. Serenity at Summit offers quality addiction treatment that can help you or a loved one face their addiction and work through it so that full-time sobriety can be achieved. 

Our programs are designed with the patient in mind. We meet each person where they are and treat them according to their individual needs.

Call us today for more information. We want to help you.

Sources

Bever, L. (2019, March 30). The horrifying way some drug addicts are now getting their fix. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/01/23/some-addicts-are-so-desperate-for-drugs-that-theyre-now-taking-medication-prescribed-to-pets/

Morgan, R. (2017, July 26). People are now maiming their pets to score drugs. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2017/01/16/people-are-now-maiming-their-pets-to-score-drugs/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, June 27). Drug Overdose Deaths | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/data/statedeaths.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 10). Opioid Overdose Crisis. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis

Vice. (2017, January 18) People Are Stealing Drugs Prescribed to Pets. Rinkhaus, S. Retrieved from https://www.vice.com/en/article/qkkp5w/people-are-stealing-drugs-prescribed-to-pets

Pain Management for Pets. (n.d.). 1800PetMeds. Retrieved from http://www.1800petmeds.com/education/pain-management-pets-25.htm

Healthline. (2019, December 2019) People Are Using Their Pets’ Prescription Meds: Why That’s a Terrible Idea. McCarthy, M. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/people-using-pet-prescription-medication-terrible-idea

NIDA. (2020, July 13). Drug Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction

Medicine, C. (n.d.). The Opioid Epidemic: What Veterinarians Need to Know. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/resources-you/opioid-epidemic-what-veterinarians-need-know

Yi, S. (n.d.). 'Doggy doctor shopping' case has police cautioning veterinarians to be aware. Retrieved from https://www.ksl.com/?sid=28816707

NIDA. (2020, July 13). Drug Misuse and Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/drug-misuse-addiction

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