MT. PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD)- South Carolina has seen a more than 20% increase in the amount of opioid related deaths in the past year. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is warning veterinarians people may be using their pets to get their hands on drugs.
Dr. Teresa Rieser, Criticalist at Veterinary Specialty Care, says, “Unfortunately this is something I think veterinarians have been aware of for some time.”
Animals are prescribed opioids just like people, often to manage pain following a surgery. Vets are on alert that some people may be using their pet to satisfy their own addiction.
Dr. Rieser says, “Obviously we don’t want to contribute to humans misusing drugs illicitly.”
The rate of opioid deaths is rising. In one year, Charleston County’s opioid related deaths increased 44.6%. Up from 65 deaths in 2016 to 94 in 2017. Vets are taking steps to make sure opioids are only prescribed when needed.
Dr. Rieser says, “Post-operative pain, you’re not going to go home with three months of narcotics. That’s not going to happen. Most of the time you’re looking at a week, maybe 10 days worth.”
They require a physical exam before prescribing these drugs.
Dr. Rieser says, “If you’re coming in for a refill for this type of medication, we want to see your pet again. Because once again, we want to reassess the animal to determine it still needs to be on that medication.”
She says they will use alternative medication and treatment options for chronic pain and stay in contact with other vets in the area.
Dr. Rieser says, “We try to keep open the lines of communication so that I know when these people are coming in, what their referring veterinarians have prescribed for them. And I’m communicating with them so they know what I prescribed, so we eliminate any double-dipping as it were.”
She adds the dosages work very differently for pets and people, so it’s especially dangerous to take a prescription meant for another species.
Dr. Rieser says, “The doses for narcotics that dogs handle, it’s my understanding and I’m not a physician, but they are much higher at starting doses than what a human should be started on. That could be life threatening.”
She says people should also be careful when storing their pet’s prescriptions so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.