People are now getting high off of medications prescribed to their pets

Veterinary officials, along with law enforcement agencies, are in the process of putting together an outreach campaign aimed at educating veterinarians about a new problem confronting the opioid epidemic. People are becoming increasingly desperate for drugs, to the point where they are consuming the medications that have been prescribed to their pets.

There are serious safety implications associated with the misuse of pet medications, for both the people consuming them, and the pets who should be. A letter from Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan was published in the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association’s weekly newsletter, to help educate people on the signs of drug misuse. The letter also highlights available treatment resources, and how to properly store and dispose of all medications. Ryan considers the information to be critical in helping curb the number of resulting overdoses and deaths from medication abuse.

Ryan recently became aware of the issue when she met a pet owner who couldn’t understand why their pet was still in pain, despite having prescription medication to help combat it. That’s when the pet owner realized a family member may have been consuming the pills, opposed to giving the recommended dosage to the suffering pet. It suddenly became clear to them that the pet wasn’t healing because it wasn’t being treated.

This issue is just coming to light, therefore statistics have yet to be compiled to give us a better understanding of how serious the problem truly is. Executive director of the veterinarians’ association, Susan Curtis, said she has not seen many cases, but attributes that rarity to the newness of the problem’s discovery. Ryan and Curtis are trying to stay ahead of the curve with education and proactive efforts to help close that door.

Many of the medications that are prescribed to pets are the same medicines prescribed to people, with the only differences being in the dosage. Pharmacists give human patients information on how to consume, store, and discard opioids. Now the veterinarians’ association is working in conjunction with Ryan’s office, and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, to create pamphlets for veterinarians to provide that information when prescribing pet medications.

Veterinarians usually have a close enough relationship with their clients to realize when a suspicious pet owner is seeking drugs for an animal that shows no signs of needing them. The dangers apply to people who are struggling with addiction, and might seek to siphon or replace pills for personal use. Veterinarians are still becoming aware of how to spot potential red flags, and are being advised to learn who else is living inside their clients’ homes. (Related: America’s Addiction: Amazing Facts and Stats about our Sordid History with Drugs and Alcohol.)

Ryan used her letter to advise veterinarians to cautiously watch for clients who may be attempting to quickly refill prescriptions, along with patients who declined to bring their pets in for an exam when seeking a prescription. Veterinarians are also being asked to review proper disposal methods for the medications they prescribe, and to call law enforcement personnel to assist with any problems that may arise.

Curtis has announced that a continuing education seminar will now be offered to veterinarians, vet technicians, and animal control officers. The stakeholders in the seminar, including law enforcement personnel, will discuss the troubles associated with humans consuming medications that were intended to treat pets. “This is very new, and very timely,” said Curtis. “We’re moving very quickly on it.”

Ohio is also taking measures to prevent abuse in the state

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received reports from both police and community members regarding people abusing pet medications, or intentionally injuring their pets to obtain pet medications. Lawmakers recently approved allowing Attorney General Mike DeWine to work in conjunction with the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and state licensing boards to provide education to veterinarians regarding the human abuse of pet medications. An Ohio house bill was also passed, toughening the penalties on animal cruelty towards domesticated pets.

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