Soteria Screening


A Veterinarian's Role in the War on Opioids

Some states are bringing veterinarians' offices into the fight against the current opioid epidemic. Why veterinarians? Well, because some people who are addicted to opioids actually use their pets to procure more drugs. Both Colorado and Maine have laws on the books that authorize or require vets to check the prescription histories for both their pets their pets' owners. Alaska, Virginia, and Connecticut have also levied new restrictions on the dosages of opioids that vets are permitted to prescribe to their patients.

As it stands, vets do not give out the more widely abused drugs, like OxyContin, Percocet, or Vicodin. However, they do provide patients with the painkiller Tramadol, as well as the anesthetic ketamine, and hydrocodone, which is an opiate aimed at treating canines' coughs. These are all substances that humans have been shown to abuse. However, many veterinarians are fighting back at these requirements, saying they do not feel they are qualified to assess the records of their patients' humans.

Most states clearly prohibit veterinarians from checking their pet owners' prescription histories, though about a third of the states require that they do. Dr. Kevin Lazarcheff, the president of California's Veterinary Medical Association, argues that he is not a physician, he is a veterinarian and, as such, he should not be provided access to people's medical histories. California veterinarians currently have permission to access the state database to check up on pet owners' prescription histories before prescribing medicine to their animals, but the act is not yet a required one.

The next question then becomes: if a veterinarian does suspect a pet owner of abusing drugs, what should he or she do then? As it is right now, there is no standard procedure in place. The one time Lazarcheff suspected a pet owner was abusing drugs, his office notified the local authorities. “Where it went after that," he says, "I don’t know.”

There are programs known as "state prescription monitoring programs," or PMPs, which allow physicians to check on a patient's history of receiving prescription drugs. However, a majority of the states do not require veterinarians to report the information they receive, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

Per Patrick Knue, the director of Brandeis University's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Training and Technical Assistance Center, it used to be that most states would require veterinarians to mail hard copies of reports of the narcotics they would prescribe. Now, in the age of the internet, many states did away with the reporting requirement and, as it was, many vets lacked the technology necessary to comply with the requirement, had it stayed on.

Maine is perhaps the toughest state in the nation on the opioid epidemic, and their rules regarding veterinarian reporting are just as strict. The state requires its vets to check the medical records of any person seeking an opioid or benzodiazepine – a drug prescribed for treating anxiety and insomnia – for his or her pet, and to notify the authorities immediately if they find anything suspect.