How is America's Opioid Crisis Affecting Pets?



A recent study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Veterinary Medicine saw a 41 percent increase in opioid prescriptions given to animals at the university’s veterinary facility. The study covered a 10-year period between January 2007 and December 2017.


The study’s researchers say this increase is comparable to the surge in opioid prescriptions given to humans during the same period. While lawmakers have buckled down on regulating doctors’ prescribing practices for opioids, they have not done the same for veterinary medicine. Within the veterinary field, there is some concern that people may use their pets’ prescriptions to obtain opioids. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report, Dr. John de Jong, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association confirmed that there have been cases where pet owners deliberately hurt their animals to gain access to opioids.  


Dr. de Jong urged caution against panicking over the study’s results. He said the increase in opioid prescriptions might be because the University of Pennsylvania veterinary facility is a teaching hospital and may see more complex veterinary cases involving intense pain management. He also said that it could be attributable to the recent development of pain management as an important field within veterinary medicine.


With veterinary care improving, pet parents are better able to take care of their furry friends, and with pets becoming more humanized, it makes sense that they may be prescribed some of the same medications we are. This study may spark interest in applying current opioid regulating practices for humans to veterinary medicine.


In the meantime, retailers can advise their customers to properly dispose of their pets’ unused medications. If a customer cannot participate in a medicine take-back or collection event, they should take the medicine and mix it with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, litter or coffee grinds in a bag or container. They do not need to crush the pills. This container can then be disposed of with regular household trash. When getting rid of pill bottles, they can scratch out all personal information on the bottle before disposal. In this way, pet owners can prevent the abuse of their pets’ prescriptions.


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