Opiod prescriptions for pet dogs misused by their masters

A new study has shown that Americans are probably increasingly consuming the opioid analgesics that are prescribed for their pet dogs. The research shows that one of the reasons behind rise in the opioid epidemic could be the rise in prescription opioids for dogs. The results of this first of a kind study were published in the latest issue of the journal JAMA Open Network.

The researchers have found that over the past few decades there has been a rise in opioid prescriptions for the pet dogs and their owners. They noted that some of these prescriptions opioids are being used by the masters instead of their pets. The team at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine (Penn Vet) looked at all the opioid pills and patches that were prescribed and dispensed for pets including dogs (73 percent), cats (23 percent) and other small animals (rabbits, snakes and birds). They looked at four opioids during the study period including tramadol, hydrocodone, codeine tablets, and fentanyl patches. The duration of the survey was between January 2007 and December 2017.

Results revealed that number of visits to the vet rose by 13 percent per year but the rise in opioid prescriptions rose by 41 percent per annually. Senior researcher Jeanmarie Perrone, a professor of emergency medicine and the director of medical toxicology at Penn Medicine, in a statement said, “As we are seeing the opioid epidemic press on, we are identifying other avenues of possible human consumption and misuse. 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, sold or diverted, or endangering young children through unintentional exposure.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States is presently under the grip of an opioid epidemic. There are over 400,000 deaths due to drug over dosages between 1999 and 2017. Opioid overdose deaths rose six times from 1999 to 2017. Perrone said the exact number of people who are misusing these drugs is not clearly known at present but there is reason enough for concern. She said that there may be unintentional use or misuse among toddlers and teenagers at home and left-over pills may be a reason behind the opioid crisis that has gripped the nation.

Study author Dana Clarke, an assistant professor at the Penn vet said, “We found that the increased quantity of opioids prescribed by our hospital was not due to increased patient volume alone... 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.”

Perrone said that there needs to be alternative measures including cutting back on opioid prescriptions and also using alternatives such as local anesthetics instead of opioids. She also called for avoidance of long term use of opioids such as hydrocodone for chronic cough etc. Instructions should be provided about storage, opioid alternative drugs and safe disposal of the left-over pills she said.

In August, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had said in a statement that veterinary-prescribed opioids had a potential “to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.” He had urged vets to be judicious in prescribing opioids, using alternatives and also educating owners about safe opioid storage and disposal after use. He had urged prescribers to adhere to federal and local prescribing regulations and American Veterinary Medical Association standards.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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