The number of opioid prescriptions written by veterinarians for pets has increased 41 percent in the past 10 years, according to a new study by Penn Medicine and Penn Vet, raising concerns that some of the highly addictive drugs may not be going to the pets, but to their owners instead.
“As we are seeing the opioid epidemic press on, we are identifying other avenues of possible human consumption and misuse,” senior study author Jeanmarie Perrone, director of medical toxicology at Penn Medicine, told The Inquirer. “Even where the increase in prescribed veterinary opioids is well intended by the veterinarian, it can mean an increased chance of leftover pills being misused later by household members.”
The first-of-its-kind study examined pharmacy records at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital over a 10-year period ending in 2017, and found that opioids like tramadol, hydrocodone, and codeine tablets as well as fentanyl patches were prescribed or dispensed to small animals. The breakdown included 73 percent dogs, 23 percent cats, and 4 percent rabbits, snakes, birds and other animals.
“It’s likely our goal of ensuring our patients are pain-free post-operatively, particularly those requiring complex and invasive procedures, has driven our increased prescribing practices during this period,” said study author Dana Clark, who is also an assistant professor at the vet school, adding, “we don’t know the potential or extent of prescription diversion from animals to humans, and what impact this could have on the human opioid crisis.”
The study, published in JAMA Network Open, isn’t the first time concerns about veterinary prescribing of opioids have been raised. Last August, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb issued a statement about the potential for opioids prescribed to animals that may “lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.”
Gottlieb’s statement followed a survey of veterinarians conducted by the Center for Health, Work and Environment at the University of Colorado, in which researchers found that found 13 percent of vets believed an owner purposely injured a pet in order to gain an opioid prescription.
In some states, the amount of opioids prescribed to a single animal are limited, background checks on owners are required, or vet prescriptions must be reported to a central database in order to offset the risk of opioid misuse.
Source: The Inquirer