Addicts using pets to get narcotics

The New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (NJPMP) is a centralized database for prescribers and pharmacists in New Jersey and partner states to track prescription sales of narcotic painkillers and other drugs that can lead to deadly heroin addiction. State law requires prescribers to review a patient’s prescription history prior to dispensing certain highly addictive controlled dangerous substances, including opioids.

Veterinarians, however, are exempt from this requirement. Authorities say that drug abusers are now using their pets — and this gap in the law — to obtain prescriptions to feed their own habits. There are even reports of people deliberately injuring their pets in an effort to get the meds.

Last week, N.J.  Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs announced stricter guidelines for veterinary prescriptions to help prevent this from happening. The initiative comes in response to reports that a growing number of addicts nationwide are abusing medications meant for their pets, including opioids like tramadol and oxycodone, which are commonly prescribed to humans and animals alike.

The new guidelines, created by the professional boards that oversee veterinarians and pharmacists, recommend including owner information as well as pet names on prescriptions to better track the sales on the NJPMP.

The AG’s office noted that, while vets typically don’t dispense the types of pain meds — such as fentanyl and OxyContin — most often blamed for starting a generation of heroin users down the path to addiction, they do prescribe for animals other drugs commonly abused by humans. Among these are Xanax and Valium, tranquilizers used to treat separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobias in dogs; hydrocodone, to relieve pain and suppress coughs in pets, and tramadol, a powerful painkiller often prescribed for animals with arthritis or other debilitating ailments.

“There appears to be a rising trend in people using their pets, sometimes even deliberately injuring their pets, to obtain these restricted pain medications for themselves,” said Sharon Joyce, acting director of Consumer Affairs. “The new standards make it easier to track CDS prescribed for animals to better identify behaviors that indicate someone is seeking the drugs for any purpose other than the treatment of a pet’s existing medical condition.”

By creating stricter standards for the way pet prescriptions are written, filled, and entered into the NJPMP, the database will become a more valuable tool for veterinarians and other prescribers to identify signs of possible medical diversion by pet owners, Porrino’s office said.

This month, the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners sent letters to its 2,725 members, recommending that they record the following information on each prescription provided to owners to treat their animals:

  • The name of the animal, (its species), and the owner’s last name.
  • The animal’s date of birth.
  • The owner’s name.
  • The owner’s address.

    The Board of Pharmacy previously sent letters to its 16,884 members recommending that they place the same information on prescription labels and record it in the NJPMP.

    By including owner information on pet prescriptions, physicians doing look-ups on the NJPMP can see what kind of medications patients have been obtaining in their pet’s name as well as their own.

    The letters also encourage veterinarians and pharmacists to access the NJPMP to report individuals they suspect may be seeking CDS for misuse, abuse or diversion.

    The NJPMP now contains more than 77 million prescriptions written or filled in New Jersey. Each record contains the names and addresses of the patient, doctor and pharmacy; drug dispensing date; type and quantity of medication, and method of payment.

    Fourteen states — including Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and Connecticut — now share data with the NJPMP.

— Karen Zautyk

 

—30—

 

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent