It’s almost unthinkable, but veterinarians say it’s happening with increasing frequency. People addicted to opioids are so desperate to score that they’re injuring innocent animals so they can take the drugs prescribed for their pets.
Horrible, you say? Yes, it is. Just imagine snapping your dog’s leg or purposely making him bleed. Imagine inflicting so much pain a narcotic is necessary to make him feel better — but never giving him that relief. Addicts are doing all this and more.
In 2014, a Kentucky woman named Heather Pereira cut her dog Alice’s leg with a razor blade on more than one occasion to get a prescription narcotic. Of course, she didn’t give it to Alice, who was in great pain.
When Pereira returned to the vet clinic twice in a short period, Dr. Chad Bailey realized the injuries were “not the sort of cuts you see in nature,” as he told The New York Post. He called the police while she waited at his clinic. Pereira was convicted and jailed for animal torture and trying to obtain a controlled substance by fraud. Alice has since been re-homed and is fine.
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“What’s scary is it took me two times to pick up on what was happening,” Bailey told The New York Post. “It worries me about the instances we miss.” Veterinarians now have to keep a close eye out to avoid inadvertently facilitating this behavior.
The drug these addicts typically try to obtain is Tramadol. It’s a pill developed to dull the pain for human cancer patients. It’s also often used on animals because of its narcotic pain-relieving effect and its reasonable cost.
“It’s a fairly safe narcotic,” Dr. Duffy Jones, an Atlanta veterinarian, told CBS News. “We use it a lot. We like it and it’s relatively inexpensive.”
Sadly, addicts are figuring out that carting in an injured animal to a veterinarian can be a rather easy way to get their hands on a cheap narcotic. Tramadol wholesales for less than $25 for 1,000 pills. Oxycodone, on the other hand, can cost $10 per pill. It’s easy to see why hitting up the veterinarian seems an approach worth trying.
Vets now have to be vigilant and ask a number of questions before prescribing narcotics for animals. There are several red flags that can signal to a veterinarian that something fishy is going on:
New patients they’ve never seen before bring in a seriously injured animal
Refusing to let the animal hospital obtain prior veterinary care records for the injured pet
The injury doesn’t really match the story being told by the pet owner
Asking for a specific narcotic (like Tramadol) by name
The pet owner needs a refill much sooner than he or she should, maybe because the pills were “spilled” or “lost”
“We’re really looking for things that don’t match up,” Jones told CBS News. “As we start to question the owner, we look at the owner’s response.” The situation is bad enough that vets now often refrain from prescribing a narcotic and try other options first.
We all know addicts harm themselves and people they love. They’re often dangerous to other people. Now they’re even dangerous to innocent animals. We need to do a better job of identifying and helping opioid addicts. They’re going to greater and greater lengths to score their drugs, and it’s becoming a crisis even for dogs and cats.
Care2 Team Blog