We’ve heard all about how bad the Opioid addiction problem has become here in the United States. As a nation, we consume 99% of the world’s opioid supply, while we represent less than 5% of its total population. Prescription drug sales on the street are rampant. People are dying. Lives are being ruined. Pharmacy stocks are going through the roof. And as bad as that all sounds (except for that pharmacy stock thing), when we think we’ve heard the foulest of the foul; it gets worse. We now find out there are people using narcotic pain relievers intended for their pets.
And I ask you, just who is watching out for Fluffy and Fido?
The issue has apparently become so bad that law enforcement and veterinary officials are having to plan an “outreach campaign to educate veterinarians about a new frontier in the opioid epidemic: people so desperate for drugs that they take medication that had been prescribed to pets”.
According to Middlesex Massachusetts District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, “The misuse of pet medication has serious safety implications — for people and animals.” The message was contained in a letter scheduled to be released this week in the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association newsletter.
Ryan indicated she had only “recently learned of the issue, when she met a pet owner who said she couldn’t understand why her pet was in pain despite having been prescribed medication. Then, the woman realized that a family member had been taking the animal’s pills.”, saying, “It suddenly became clear why the pet had not been getting better.”
I must admit to some ignorance here, which is unusual. Not that my ignorance is unusual; rather the fact that I am the one pointing it out. Some of you out there are more than eager to point out my ignorance – real or perceived – at every opportunity. I’m sorry to preempt your thunder. But I digress.
Now, where was I? Oh, yes, my ignorance.
How does one know when a pet is in pain? Despite the obvious – say a pronounced limp, or the noise it makes when I am accidentally standing on its foot – how does one know these things for sure? Is there a pain chart pets can use to indicate their particular level of discomfort? And can we really trust what the pet tells us? Do they really need these meds? Let’s be honest. Most dogs and cats can lick themselves where they hurt. Frankly if we could do that we probably wouldn’t need pain meds either.
Then again, maybe pets are just vet shopping to support their habit.
Well, the habit they could have developed if greedy humans didn’t keep stealing their stash. It’s got to be extra tough for these little guys, since they can’t drive themselves from animal hospital to animal hospital. And Lord knows how they get those confounded prescription bottles open without an opposable thumb. I have an opposable thumb; in reality I have two of them, and I struggle endlessly with those damn things. Maybe my problem is I am all thumbs.
But once again, I digress…..
And is anyone curious as to what vets are prescribing narcotic level drugs for our furry friends? Who does that?
I attended the National Prescription Drug Abuse Summit a few years ago. I was shocked to learn that US medical students were receiving just 7 hours of pain management instruction. We also learned that veterinarian students received 75 hours of training in pain management for their patients. I wrote at the time that this meant Fluffy the cat was getting better pain management care than your drug addled brother in law.
Now we learn that Fluffy is probably getting ripped off by the people who are supposed to be caring for her. I must admit, there may be a reason for this. Anyone who has ever tried to shove a pill down the throat of a fully armed pussy cat knows that pain medication is often needed afterwards.
In all seriousness, there are instances where strong pain medications of short duration are justified for pets. I wrote a few years ago about one of our cats who had to have almost all his teeth removed. I don’t recall exactly what medication he received but we did have to administer pain medication to him for several days. While there was no way for us to tell he was in pain, it was an absolute certainty. No one in their right mind wants to see their little friends suffer needlessly.
Still, this is not a healthy situation. Let alone that we are prescribing these types of drugs for house pets; the abuse of their medicine by humans is dangerous. The fact humans are resorting to raiding their pets medicine cabinet should give us a clue that more still needs to be done.
Fluffy and Fido would no doubt appreciate our intervention.