According to a January 23, 2017 article in The Washington Post, some drug addicts are getting access to pain medication by inflicting injuries upon their own pets.
The article tells the story of Heather Pereira of Elizabethtown, Kentucky, who took her “injured” golden retriever to an animal hospital to sew up a cut. Pereira asked for Tramadol, a pain reliever for both animals and humans. Three days later, Pereira returned to the vet for more medication saying her child flushed the pills down the toilet.
The veterinarian noticed that the incident marked the third time the dog had been in due to a cut where Pereira asked for the pain pills. The cut looked suspicious, as it was sharp and clean, unlike a cut in nature when a dog is cut on a fence or in a fight. Local police were called who reported Pereira had been intentionally cutting her dog and “vet shopping,” going from vet to vet to obtain prescription medication for her dog.
In 2015, Pereira was convicted on 3 counts of animal torture as well as 5 counts of obtaining a controlled substance by making false statements, which is a felony. She was sentenced to four years in prison. She was released in December 2016 to mandatory re-entry supervision after serving two years.
Such cases are relatively uncommon although they underscore a widespread opioid epidemic. Addicts are maiming their own dogs to get opiates from vets. Tramadol costs up to 20 times less than oxycodone leaving experts to believe that it may become the new opioid choice for abusers.
As early as 2013, police officers and community leaders brought incidents of people abusing and injuring pets intentionally in order to obtain drugs to the attention of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association.
The association proactively worked with the attorney general on prevention efforts developing education materials for veterinarians with tips for identifying abuse and preventing the human consumption or theft of medications prescribed for animals.
Jim Arnold, chief of policy and liaison for the diversion control division at the Drug Enforcement Administration, confirmed to the New York Post that dogs are being injured for drugs. Last year, outside Portland, OR, police seized 100,000 Tramadol pills and rescued 17 dogs living in very poor conditions. Four people who claimed to be breeding AKC-registered puppies were arrested on the suspicion of running a thinly disguised opioid distribution ring.
Nationwide veterinarians are examining the alarming trend of drug addicts abusing dogs to get their next fix. Online forums for veterinarians discuss “doggy doctor shopping” and how addicts pull the same horrific scam on vet after vet, often abusing the same dog. The challenge for vets is there is little they can do to confirm if clients have been to another vet to purchase drugs.
Several states have Prescription Drug Monitoring Program databases that enable physicians to track controlled prescription drugs described to patients. However, most do not require vets to report the prescribing and dispensing of these drugs.
Some vets are worried about over-regulation and argue that an unnecessary burden would be placed upon them if they were forced to report such data. Other vets worry than publicizing the problem will only make more drug addicts aware of the criminal opportunity to feed their addiction.
Maiming animals to get opioids is a serious problem that must be addressed. There are new state rules that force opioid prescribers to confront “doctor shopping”. Eighteen states have adopted mandates in the last four years that require doctors who prescribe opioids and other controlled substances to check prescription databases. Veterinarians must be included in these new regulations in order to protect the animals and clamp down on widespread opioid abuse.