OKLAHOMA – You could call it a new frontier in the opioid crisis.
People are using their pets to score drugs.
Vets across Oklahoma are now forced to screen for pet owners who may be using their pets’ painkiller prescriptions for themselves.
It is an epidemic without boundaries.
From police to pilots and preachers to teachers, households around the country are affected by the unshakable grip of opioid addiction.
The numbers show more Oklahomans now die from prescription drug overdoses than car wrecks.
And now, some abusers are exploiting their pets to feed the habit.
“When they come in, they ask for drugs by name, that’s kind of the first red flag,” Dr. Eli Landry said.
Dr. Eli Landry practices veterinary medicine in Seminole.
Dr. Landry and his colleagues are dealing with a new issue in their offices: addicts trying to get their hands on pet prescriptions for themselves.
“When they’re seeking these controlled substances, these Tramadols, they know what they’re doing. They know what they’re trying to seek and get. So they know what to bring in and what history to give,” Dr. Landry said.
Tramadol is a common painkiller prescribed for dogs.
It’s also prescribed for humans, just in different doses.
It has opiate-like effects and carries a high risk for addiction.
Other vets are fielding requests for Xanax and Valium.
Some of these drug seekers bring in older dogs just recently adopted; animals that legitimately need the medication.
“The fact there are actually people out there adopting animals for just this reason makes us infuriated,” Heather Hernandez said.
Animal rights advocate Heather Hernandez and her husband John run a rescue for dogs who need extra love and attention.
They’re especially wary now of people with ulterior motives trying to adopt older dogs.
“It’s disgusting. It’s absolutely unbelievable that people are not only doing this in general, but exploiting the innocent animals. These animals need good loving homes,” Hernandez said.
Vets are especially cautious with new clients.
Often, they’ll go from vet to vet to get prescriptions, or so-called “vet shopping.”
That’s why veterinarians now use the same program other doctors use.
The legislature created it a couple of years ago to monitor prescriptions for highly addictive drugs.
“They have to have a driver’s license to get these medications, so then they’re in a database,” Dr. Landry said.
Human and animal doctors use Oklahoma’s prescription monitoring program to track who is getting prescriptions, what drugs, and how often they’re filled.
“If we do have somebody who was filled five prescriptions in the past month for their dog, it’ll tell me when, how much, how many, and what doctors so we can contact those doctors too,” Dr. Landry said.
More training will soon be accessible for vets as more incidents are being reported across the country. A Kentucky woman recently served two years in prison for cutting her dog with a razor blade just so she could take the dog’s pain meds.
For most vets, the cases are not as extreme, and they can typically go with an alternative treatment option to opioids.
But as the crisis continues, those we depend on to care for our animals have another job: to take a close look at the owners, too.
“In the end it hurts our patient. That animal may really need that medication, but then it becomes a moral and ethical dilemma,” Dr. Landry said.
A spokesman for the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics told us their agents do offer training on this.