ORANGE PARK, Fla. – As the opioid epidemic spreads veterinarian clinics, Virginia lawmakers recently passed stricter regulations on the amount of medication that veterinarians can give out.
A new study from the University of Pennsylvania, which was published in JAMA Network Open, shows a 41.2 percent increase in opioid medication prescriptions for pets, but only a 12.8 percent increase in pet hospital visits over an 11-year period. Some say those numbers don't add up.
"In general, our opioid use in dogs has increased because we're trying to provide better pain control for our dogs, but that does come with unintended consequences and misuse by owners," said Dr. Chris Broadhurst, senior staff veterinarian at Clay Humane.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in 47,600 overdose deaths in 2017. Florida and Georgia were among the states with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2016 to 2017.
Although lawmakers have passed legislation to help monitor prescriptions and the amount of pain killers, the problem continues to grow -- even affecting veterinarian clinics such as Clay Humane.
"We have been without some of our better injectable opioids for over a year," Broadhurst said. "We just started to get them back because the manufacturing slow-downs to keep the opioids out of abuse from human hands."
Researchers are finding there's an increase in "vet shopping," in which pet owners visit multiple veterinarians and claim false injuries to get opioids for themselves. Some pet owners are even hurting their animals to get their hands on drugs, according to Psychology Today.
Veterinarians such as Broadhurst are taking steps to help cut back on drug abuse by thoroughly checking the history of pets by calling their prior vets, limiting the amount of opioids prescribed and offering alternative non-addicting medication.
"Pills are problematic," Broadhurst said. "We don't carry any opioid pills for exactly that reason and try to keep it injectable-only for surgery."
If you suspect someone is abusing their pet's medication, you can contact police to investigate.