SDSU conducts first statewide study on the impact the opioid epidemic is having on pets

BROOKINGS, S.D. – The opioid epidemic is a growing problem in our country. So much so, that now our pets could be in danger.

Researchers from SDSU in Brookings reached out to veterinarians who are practicing in South Dakota and who prescribe opioids. The results from this survey are based on the answers and experiences of 145 veterinarians across our state. According to the 2019 South Dakota Veterinarian Opioid Survey conducted by South Dakota State University in Brookings, pet owners may be taking advantage of their pets and their need for medical care.

Dr. Erin Brown with Mountain View Animal Hospital in Rapid City says this kind of news is forcing them to change the way they give out prescriptions. “We know there is that risk for abuse and in our animals, they don’t have the addiction possibility because they don’t metabolize them the way humans do. But once they leave our doors, we can never guarantee how they are going to be used,” said Dr. Brown.

This study looked at three different factors:

  • The types of opioids being prescribed
  • The take home process for opioids once they’re prescribed to a pet
  • Storage of the opioids at veterinarian clinics

According to this survey, 65% of the participants said they prescribe opioids. The most common Butorphanol, Buprenorphine, and Tramadol.

When considering whether or not to provide pet owners with take home opioid prescriptions, several factors were considered by the vets in this study. The first is when the veterinarian regards the pet as a patient.

  • 98% said the patient/pet severity of pain was important to consider
  • 84% said patient/pet preexisting conditions were important to consider
  • Vets also mention the importance of exhausting non-opioid options first and only prescribe opioids as a last result
  • Second—regarding the pet owner
  • 83% said the owner’s mannerisms could raise red flags in their willingness to send home opioids for their pet

When it comes to the way opioids are stored inside a veterinarian clinic:

  • 20% have experienced break-ins or burglaries at their practice and nearly 100% of veterinarians report that opioids are locked up and secured in some way in their practice as a precaution.

The survey by SDSU also revealed that veterinary practices that prescribe controlled substances must have at least one

veterinarian on staff with a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) license. This helps to ensure that there is some oversight into how much, what kinds and when certain drugs are prescribed to animals.

According to the SDSU survey, only 6% of participating veterinarians across the state have suspected owner of intentionally harming their pets to get opioids

“I mean it’s definitely disheartening because we want to do what’s best for our animals but at the same time we know that if their families aren’t functioning well then that’s not gonna take care of the animal either. So it’s been hard for us because trying to find ways to treat for pain has been difficult and we finally had some ideas on how to do it. Now we’re having to totally re-write that playbook,” said Dr. Brown.

Fortunately for our state the necessary precautions are already being taken to keep this from becoming a real problem in South Dakota. However, veterinarians who participated in this research say that they are still interested in learning more about this issue to better handle opioid prescriptions for their fury and four-legged patients.


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