Veterinarians often prescribe drugs for animals that are diverted and abused by their human owners. While this may seem extreme, it is quite common. Obtaining drugs in this way can not only lead to drug addiction in humans but also lead to harm or untreated injury for their pets. Like doctor shopping, lying about symptoms, or stealing from loved ones, it is not surprising that someone with a severe drug addiction may take advantage of their pets to obtain drugs. Keep reading to learn more about this problem and how we can help.
Abusing Dogs and Prescription Drug Addiction
Veterinarians prescribe many different drugs to pets. When a pet is in pain or needs to be sedated for a procedure, vets may prescribe painkillers like opioids or sedatives. Unfortunately, many of these medications are substances that can be abused by people.
As a result, some individuals “vet shop” to try and get different veterinarians to prescribe their pets controlled substances and then use these drugs themselves instead of giving them to their pets. This is especially true of opioid drugs.
The opioid crisis has claimed more than 840,000 lives since 1999.1 Due to the risk of narcotic abuse in the U.S., both federal and state governments have cracked down on opioid prescriptions. This has led those who are struggling with opioid addictions to try and obtain drugs in other ways. While some have turned to cheap and accessible street drugs like heroin, others have sought narcotics from a less common source: their veterinarian’s office.
In recent years, pet owners have made headlines for using their pet’s painkillers and even injuring their pets to obtain narcotics. In fact, around 13% of veterinarians have suspected that a pet owner has faked their pet’s illness or purposely injured their pets to get drugs. This type of drug-seeking behavior can exacerbate substance abuse and addiction as well as the abuse, injury, and even death of animals.
Commonly Abused Veterinary Drugs
Common prescription drugs for pets can differ from those used in humans. Whereas humans are commonly prescribed opioids like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, commonly abused drugs for animals include:
- Tramadol: Tramadol is an effective painkiller and a Schedule IV controlled substance. It is one of the few veterinary drugs available for use by both humans and animals. Though it is intended to treat injury-caused pain, people may abuse the drug for its fast-acting and euphoric effects. Because tramadol is only available with a prescription, some pet owners will abuse their pets to obtain it.
- Trazodone: Trazodone is a generic drug that is sold under brand names like Olpetro and Desyrel. Trazodone can be used as a treatment for anxiety and behavioral problems in dogs. While the drug can be prescribed by veterinarians to animals, it is only FDA-approved for human use. People may abuse this drug for its sedative properties, which is why some owners will falsely report behavioral problems in their pets obtaining it. However, behavioral problems can also lead to euthanasia, so the individual risks having their pet put down.
- Ketamine: Ketamine is a psychotropic drug used for animals and sold under the brand names Ketaset, Ketaflo, Vetalar, and Vetaket. The drug is a dissociative hypnotic and can help settle anxiety and pain in agitated animals. Ketamine is fast-acting, and in humans, it is abused for sedation, dissociative experiences, hallucinations, and as a date rape drug.
- Hydrocodone: Hydrocodone is a Schedule II narcotic that vets prescribe for pain and cough in dogs. It is also used to treat severe pain in humans. Hydrocodone is one of the most commonly abused opioids in the nation.
- Fentanyl: Fentanyl is another Schedule II opioid that is used to treat pain in animals. The drug is 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin. It is a common cause of drug overdose in humans and is a dangerous substance of abuse. As of 2017, 59% of opioid overdose deaths in people involved fentanyl.2
Around 44% of vets have suspected that a client or employee has struggled with opioid addiction.1 This can lead to concern that clients might harm their pets to obtain drugs and that employees may abuse their positions.
Common signs of veterinary drug abuse include:
- Going to multiple vets or “vet shopping”
- Bringing in a seriously injured animal
- Asking for medications by name
- Asking for early medication refills
- Saying that their pet’s narcotic was lost or stolen and asking for a replacement
- Bringing in different injured animals, sometimes claiming it is for friends or family
- Constantly bringing in their pet for multiple injuries
If you suspect a client or someone in your office is abusing drugs for animals or lying to get drugs from the office, it is important to inform the authorities. The police will be able to remove the pet from the home and, depending on the state, may be able to charge the person with animal cruelty.
Our Banyan Delaware rehab center understands that professional care is often required to help people with addictions recover and turn their lives around. Our facility offers opioid addiction treatment, among other addiction services that can help you or a loved one get sober.
- The Denver Post - Colorado vets suspect some pet owners abuse animals to get opioids