Are Pet Prescriptions Contributing To The Opioid Crisis?

Are Pet Prescriptions Contributing To The Opioid Crisis?

By David Konow 01/16/19

Some wonder if people with opioid addiction are using their pet’s prescriptions to feed their own addictions instead.

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Are Pet Prescriptions Contributing To The Opioid Crisis?
In the last 10 years, there has been a 41% increase in opioid prescriptions for pets. Belish | Dreamstime.com

With the rise of the opioid epidemic, a phenomenon has occurred where painkiller sales for pets have increased, and some wondering if people with opioid addiction are using their pet’s prescriptions to feed their own addictions instead.

A new study by Penn Medicine and Penn Vet has revealed that in the last 10 years, there has been a 41% increase in opioid prescriptions for pets, yet in the same period, there has only been a 13% jump in pets having to go to the hospital. This has some suspecting that people could be using these prescriptions to get opioids for themselves.

Study author Jeanmarie Perrone, director of medical toxicology at Penn Medicine told Philly.com, “As we are seeing the opioid epidemic press on, we are identifying other avenues of possible human consumption and misuse. Even where the increase in prescribed veterinary opioids is well intended by the veterinarian, it can mean an increased chance of leftover pills being misused later by household members.”

Penn Medicine says this is the first study they’ve done in this area, and in gathering data, they looked at pharmacy records at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital over a 10-year period and looked at prescription patterns with four kinds of opioids given to pets: tramadol, hydrocodone, codeine tablets, and fentanyl patches.

An author of this study, Dana Clarke, an assistant professor at the vet school, added, “We found that the increased quantity of opioids prescribed by our hospital was not due to increased patient volume alone. It’s likely our goal of ensuring our patients are pain-free post-operatively, particularly those requiring complex and invasive procedures, has driven our increased prescribing practices during this period.” At the same time, Clarke says, “we don’t know the potential or extent of prescription diversion from animals to humans, and what impact this could have on the human opioid crisis.”

There has already been concern about people abusing pet meds elsewhere in the country. A similar study was done through the University of Colorado, where they learned that 13% of vets who were surveyed reported that pet owners would injure their pets or make them sick on purpose to get their hands on opioids.

Last year, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration also released a statement concerning possible opioid abuse through pet meds and said that it could “lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.” The FDA told vets to be responsible when prescribing opioids and recommended prescribing different meds whenever they could.

As a result of these concerns, some veterinarians have already been putting restrictions on how many opioids can be prescribed to an animal, and some vets also perform background checks on some pet owners to look into their histories with opioid prescriptions.

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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