By Carey Wedler at theantimedia.org
As opioid addiction continues to plague many Americans, some are now hurting their pets to scam veterinarians into giving them prescription painkillers.
ABC affiliate, News 10, recently reported on the growing trend, specifically with regard to tramadol, an opioid painkiller originally intended for humans. The pharmaceutical analgesic was extended to animals when it was discovered it could be administered without having to change the formula, and now addicts are exploiting veterinarians who prescribe it.
One veterinarian, Dr. Lexi Becker, told News 10 “she’s heard of cases where owners will purposely hurt their pets to trick vets into thinking tramadol is needed to treat the animal. But in reality, the owners are the ones using it.”
“There’s unfortunately always the risk of abuse with any of these medications, and it’s a sad reality we have to be aware of,” she said.The New York Post has also reported on the growing phenomenon, citing multiple disturbing examples of addicts abusing their pets to obtain pharmaceuticals:
“Heather D. Pereira of Hardin County, Ky., was arrested and charged with using a disposable razor to slice open the leg of her 4-year-old retriever on two separate occasions to get her hands on tramadol. [emphasis added]
“Chad Bailey, the vet who used six to eight stitches to close Pereira’s dog’s initial wounds, told The Post he became suspicious when she returned to his clinic three days after the first visit for more pills — claiming her child accidentally flushed them down the toilet. Pereira, 23, has no kids.”
When Pereira came back for a third visit to request more tramadol, the Post reported, Bailey noticed the cuts on the dog were too clean. They were “not the sort of cuts you see in nature,” he said. He called the police, and Periera was ultimately convicted of “trying to obtain controlled substances by fraud.”
The FDA failed to schedule tramadol when it first approved it for use in 1995, despite the fact people were abusing it in other parts of the world at the time. However, in 2010, after studies revealed the high the drug produced was similar to that of oxycodone and heroin — two of the most heavily used opioids in the U.S. — the federal government began to take note. At that time, the Department of Health and Human Services reviewed the painkiller and suggested it should be officially scheduled. By 2014, the DEA had scheduled tramadol as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it allegedly has “a low potential for abuse relative to substances in Schedule III” — a class that includes Ketamine and Tylenol with codeine.
However, that designation was apparently inaccurate (unsurprising considering the DEA still classifies cannabis as one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs in existence). Because tramadol can be up to 20 times cheaper than traditional painkillers, Drugabuse.com has warned, it “may become the new opioid of choice for abusers” even though it is not quite as strong as traditional opioids.
Even so, the drug’s ability to drive up serotonin and norepinephrine levels has an effect similar to that of antidepressants, and as Drugabuse.com explains, these “mood-elevating properties caused them to take higher doses of the drug – or take it more often – than had been prescribed.” Extended use of the drug can lead to both psychological and physical dependency and can also result in “disturbed sleep patterns resulting in insomnia, and…increased risk of convulsions or seizures.” In Northern Ireland, more teens now overdose on tramadol than on heroin or morphine, according to a local coroner.
The Post details message boards where veterinarians discuss the practice of “doctor shopping,” in which pet-owning addicts request prescriptions from multiple doctors. This practice has also been documented among people attempting to score extra drugs from human doctors, as well.
One example from the vet boards, as paraphrased by the Post, exemplified this method:
“First the airline lost the dog’s drugs on a trip to Canada, then an extended trip to assist her mom through chemo required an early script renewal for her traveling pet, the vet explained.
“That’s when it dawned on the second vet that the same person was pulling the scam on her.
“‘She’s been using two different pharmacies with our scripts, and two others with my friend’s scripts,’” the vet wrote on the message board.
In a different example of desperation, a Portland couple continued to request tramadol from their veterinarian even after they euthanized their pet. “The co-owners had already filled two tramadol prescriptions and were ‘trying to fill a third (120 tablets each)’ when they were caught,” one veterinarian said on a message board.
These schemes are not new. The Dayton Daily News, a local Ohio paper, documented humans abusing their pets to obtain pills back in 2013. At that time, the DEA had not yet scheduled tramadol.
When the DEA did schedule tramadol, it left enforcement up to the states, and Ohio has taken some measures to keep humans from harming their pets for drugs, including tightening animal abuse laws and passing legislation to allow Ohio’s Attorney General 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.”
Similarly, as the Post notes:
“In California…vets must make a log note of every narcotic they supply. New York requires vets to make an online report within 24 hours of dispensing any tramadol, making its oversight system one of the country’s most stringent.”
In New Jersey, however, veterinarians are not required to disclose what they prescribe, a policy that highlights vast variations in state policy around the country.
The problem has gotten so bad some veterinarians simply refuse to stock tramadol at all. “We’ve gone to not carrying it,” one veterinarian said. “If we think a pet needs it, we’ll just call in a prescription.”
As heartbreaking as this trend may be, it is ultimately a reflection of failed federal drug policy. The federal government has sanctioned pharmaceutical corporations, and as a result, the opioid epidemic, by approving countless powerful pharmaceuticals for sale with few restrictions (the FDA has approved oxycodone for use in children as young as eleven). This has had countless ramifications, especially as the government now attempts to curb the crisis by restricting access to traditional, pharmaceutical grade painkillers.
Even as federal agencies attempt to fix the damage, however, these restrictions are creating conditions that drive addicts to obtain their highs in other ways — whether that means resorting to heroin use or harming their pets to obtain their fix.
This article (People Are Purposely Hurting Their Dogs to Get Prescription Drug Fixes from Veterinarians) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Carey Wedler and theAntiMedia.org.