Veterinarians warned about people using pets to get opioids

WASHINGTON — As the nation struggles to turn the tide against the opioid crisis, an area police department is warning veterinarians that they play an important role in the fight.

Fairfax County police are warning veterinarians to be on the lookout for cases of vet shopping — a practice in which people use their pets to feed their own addictions.

“The cases that I’ve seen were times where people would bring their pets in, and describe certain ailments and certain conditions, that would lead the veterinarian to prescribe the drugs that they were looking for, for themselves,” said Detective Richard Henry.

Henry said there have been two cases of vet shopping in Fairfax County since 2016, each involving people trying to get their hands on Tramadol, a painkiller that is highly addictive.

He investigated the county’s first case, and is now using what he learned to teach veterinarians about what to watch out for.

A veterinarian shopper, Henry said, is often a new patient who brings in a seriously injured animal. In some reported cases from around the nation, the pet owners are suspected of injuring their animal before the appointment.

Other red flags include a pet owner’s conduct during an appointment, watch for descriptions of symptoms which may require painkillers, even though the animal doesn’t show those symptoms. Owners may also ask for specific drugs by name, request refills early or after missing appointments. Aggressive pet owners can also be a cause for concern, Henry said.

Veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson said while she hasn’t seen any instances of vet-shopping at her office, veterinarians are talking about it during conferences.

“It certainly is something that’s on our radar,” she said.

Nelson said that at her office, strict records are kept on all drugs in stock, and only certain staff members are given access to medicines. The state has also stepped in and has set limits for the amount of opioids a veterinarian can prescribe, she said.

Veterinarians have been asked to spot similar activities in the past. More than a decade ago, some people would use their pets, or break into clinics, looking to get their hands on the tranquilizer Ketamine.

“We’re always going to do what’s the best for our patient, but we also have to be aware that there is a two-legger on the end of the leash,” Nelson said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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