Drug abusers turning to pet meds to feed habit

9:10 a.m. Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

Hospitals and doctors’ offices around the state have cracked down on prescription drug abuse, and veterinarians’ offices may be next.

The Ohio Attorney General’s Office has heard from police officers and community leaders that people are either abusing drugs prescribed to pets or intentionally injuring animals to obtain the drugs, an office spokeswoman said.

Lawmakers approved language this week allowing Attorney General Mike DeWine to work with the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and state licensing boards to educate veterinarians about possible abuse by people who seek medications for dogs, cats and other pets.

Some southwest Ohio veterinary clinics reported cases where they suspected pet owners of shopping for pet prescriptions before they should have run out or claiming to have lost the paperwork.

“We’re aware that people are sometimes asking for drugs for their dogs that they are abusing themselves,” said Dr. John Talmadge of the Bigger Road Veterinary Clinics in Springboro and Kettering. “If a person has got a prescription for an opioid or behavior drugs like Xanax, we’re sensitive to that, we tend to monitor that, and if people are calling in additional prescriptions without wanting to bring the pet in, that can be a red flag.”

Vet clinic workers in West Chester Twp. and Springfield said they’ve had inquiries or heard about Tramadol, a cheap prescription pain medication that works similarly to morphine. Tramadol is not a controlled substance and therefore is not tracked like opiates.

“If we run into a situation that’s questionable, we’re going to bow out. We’re gonna say that we elect not to treat this animal,” said Michael Gigis, an RN who runs the West Chester Veterinary Center with his veterinarian wife, Elizabeth. “Probably at some point in time, the DEA is going to get involved here and they’re going to make (Tramadol) a controlled substance, or they should.”

Nikki L. Maynard, a vet at Mad River Veterinarian Hospital in Springfield, said she’s had phone calls from other offices when they think someone is shopping for prescriptions for their pets. “Occasionally, another clinic will call around the other clinics and say we have a suspected seeker so be careful if they come in your office.”

Talmadge has made those calls.

“Sometimes when we’ve gotten calls from a client with a pet that we’re suspicious of, we have called other local clinics in the area to see if they are seeing the same pet and calling in prescriptions,” Talmadge said. “We have found that on a couple of occasions and we do report those to the Attorney General’s Office.”

Veterinarians currently don’t have access to the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS), which physicians use to track prescriptions. Talmadge said access to the system may help, and he gets calls from local pharmacies alerting him to possible issues.

Lawmakers in the Ohio House recognized the effort in a bill to toughen penalties for cruelty to “companion animals” such as dogs and cats and animals that live indoors. The Ohio House approved House Bill 274 on Wednesday in a 84-8 vote. Similar legislation addressing animal cruelty has passed the House in the past but not the Senate.

Education materials for veterinarians will include tips for identifying abuse as well as suggestions to patients for how to dispose of excess medication.

Jill Del Greco, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the pet owner might not be abusing the medication, but a family member might take it or try to sell it.

“Doctors might have a preconceived notion of who might be a prescription drug abuser but this is the type of problem that could affect any family,” Del Greco said.

Neither local law enforcement nor local vets haven’t seen signs of intentional injuries to animals to get prescriptions, but the vets are aware that some people may want pills without appointments.

“I have offended some clients because they’re saying they just can’t afford to come in, but it’s been a year since we’ve seen them, for example, and they say they need Phenobarbital for their seizuring pet,” Talmadge said. “We apologize about it, but we just have to make sure that we’re prescribing a drug for a live pet. It’s not that we’re accusing anybody of anything, we’re not trying to accuse somebody of abusing these drugs, but it does happen and we have to be careful.”

This newspaper, WHIO-TV and News Talk Radio WHIO joined forces to produce a community service project to raise awareness about the growing prescription drug epidemic in our community. “Prescription for Pain” examined how the escalating prescription drug abuse problem is fueling a rise in heroin addiction. You can read more about the project at www.whio.com/prescription-for-pain

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