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FDA: Pet owners use veterinarians to get prescription opioids

As the U.S. Food and Drug Administration battles abuse of prescription opioids, the agency is raising alarms about one unexpected way people might gain access to the pain medication: through their veterinarians.

Some pet owners battling opioid addiction might turn to medication intended for their animal companions for relief, FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement released on Wednesday.

“We recognize that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals – just as they do for people,” he said. “But just like the opioid medications used in humans, these drugs have potentially serious risks, not just for the animal patients, but also because of their potential to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.”

In the past, the FDA hasn’t offered much guidance to veterinarians on prescription opioid use, Gottlieb noted. That’s changing, as the organization releases a new resource guides for vets who might become unwitting enablers to addicted pet owners.

The new resource guide includes information on alternative pain medications, how to properly store and protect opioids, how to recognize and take action if a veterinarian suspects a patient’s owner is abusing their pet’s medication, and additional information on federal and state regulations.

Veterinarians must be licensed by the Drug Enforcement Administration to prescribe powerful painkillers like opioids, and should take care to follow their training and licensing requirements, Gottlieb said.

“[V]eterinarians should also follow professional standards set by the American Veterinary Medical Association in prescribing these products to ensure those who are working with these powerful medications understand the risks and their role in combating this epidemic,” he said.

The statement comes a week after the American Journal of Public Health published a paper sharing survey results that found 13 percent of a pool of Colorado veterinarians suspected a pet owner had either made their pet appear injured or intentionally injured their pet to receive prescription opioids for their own use. Close to half suspected opioid abuse or misuse by a pet owner or staff member.

While the survey wasn’t a scientific study, it did indicate a need for more guidance on prescribing opioids and other pain medications, the authors said.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

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