How the Opioid Crisis is Affecting Pets

The opioid crisis is affecting Americans big time. The average American lifespan actually dropped four years in a row between 2014 and 2017 due to the crisis. And although Americans are the main concern during the crisis, there is another seemingly forgotten group that is also being affected: Our beloved pets.

Happy Dog Standing Up and Smiling

Your precious pet might be more affected by the opioid crisis than you thought. | Citysqwirl/iStock/Getty Images

The government has controlled and reduced the number of opioids produced

In an effort to tame the crisis, the government has put harsher regulations on the amount of opioids that are produced. This prevents doctors from handing out opioid prescriptions here and there for patients who don’t actually need such strong pain killers. With a smaller opioid availability, doctors are forced to only prescribe opioids to patients who are in serious need of pain relief.

But limited access means animals are suffering

Of course, humans are top priority when it comes to prescribing opioids and relieving pain. However, with limited access to the drugs, humans are using up most of the opioid prescriptions the government allows. And that means veterinarians don’t have enough of the drug to prescribe to pets who undergo painful surgeries or other procedures. Drugs like morphine, hydromorphine, and fentanyl are used to anesthetize small dogs and cats during surgical procedures and provide post-surgery relief.

““We anesthetize roughly 20 to 30 cases a day. We are one of the largest clinics in the nation and worry — will there be enough opioids?” Dr. Giacomo Gianotti, head of anesthesia at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, told Fox.

Vets are forced to administer more expensive drugs or else use other drugs differently, which doesn’t follow protocol. Doctors say it’s hard to use second-choice drugs on animals because they can’t let you know how much pain they’re in. Procedures like spaying and neutering often require opioids, and second-choice drugs don’t always work as well to manage the pain.

Last year, the DEA called for a 25% reduction in opioid production. This year, it called for an additional 20% reduction.

In addition to the drug shortage, vets suspect some people are intentionally injuring their pets to access opioids

It’s a suspicion nobody wants to imagine, but some veterinarians can’t help but think people are injuring their pets with the hope of getting opioids for themselves. The action even has a name: vet shopping. Owners intentionally injure their pets, then take them to the vet to get pain killers. But instead of giving them to their pup, the owners use them for themselves. In Florida, one woman cut her dog with a razor blade in order to obtain pain killers. Vets suspected something wasn’t right with the dog’s injuries and notified police. The woman was sentenced to four years in prison.

Some drug dealers also own several dogs and abuse them in order to gain access to opioids, which they then sell. There is a loophole in the system: Animals’ pain prescriptions are not tracked the way humans’ are, so there is no way to tell how many pain killers a dog or cat has been prescribed. This allows a person to go to multiple vets to obtain new pills all for the same injury.

Some states have begun requiring their vets to log prescriptions for animals, so the system can stop being manipulated. Other states have begun training vets on how to spot a pet with a purposeful injury rather than an accidental one.

Despite the actions taken, animals still remain greatly affected by the crisis. Since animals can’t explain how they were injured, it’s difficult to be absolutely sure someone caused the injury to the animal. Our furry friends have been roped into the center of the crisis.

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