The United States Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb issued a statement Wednesday, warning veterinarians that some pet owners may be using their animals to get prescriptions for opioid drugs.
“As we look at tackling the opioid crisis, it’s important that we take a close look at all the access points where these powerful medications can be obtained,” Gottlieb said. “We must also ensure that all health care professionals understand their role and responsibility in prescribing these products, and lend our support in appropriately managing them.”
Veterinarians may prescribe suffering animals potent pain-relieving opioids “generally derived from morphine.” According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, common controlled substances involved may include oxycodone, hydromorphone, butorphanol, meperidine or fentanyl.
Recuvyra, the only FDA-approved opioid for animal use, isn’t currently marketed. The highly potent Carfentanil is no longer FDA-approved.
Because of the lack of FDA-approved products tailored for prescribing veterinarians, many may prescribe human-approved products when they determine a need for pain management in pets.
The FDA has also developed a new resource with recommendations for veterinarians who both stock and administer the drugs “to ensure they have additional context regarding the potential for people to misuse the products that they are prescribing to their animal patients.”
Some steps veterinarians should take to combat the opioid crisis, according to the FDA:
- Follow state and federal regulations on prescribing opioids
- Use alternatives to opioids
- Educate pet owners on safe storage and disposal of opioids
- Know what to do in case of pet opioid overdose
- Know signs of opioid abuse and have a safety plan
“We recognize that opioids and other pain medications have a legitimate and important role in treating pain in animals – just as they do for people,” Gottlieb said. “But just like the opioid medications used in humans, these drugs have potentially serious risks, not just for the animal patients, but also because of their potential to lead to addiction, abuse and overdose in humans who may divert them for their own use.”
Since 2000, the opioid epidemic has claimed more than 300,000 lives and every day, 115 Americans die from prescription opioids and illicit opioids, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The number of overdose deaths involving opioids in 2016 was five times higher than in 1999.