DENVER — Opioid addiction is a full-blown public health emergency and prescribing painkillers has become more complicated for all kinds of doctors.
A new survey by the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz found that some owners are intentionally injuring their pets to get drugs for their own use.
According to the report, 13 percent of these vets say they had seen a client who they thought hurt a pet on purpose, made them sick or made them seem sick.
Veterinarian Kevin Fitzgerald says it’s a wake-up call for vets.
"I think for a while veterinarians fell under the radar,” Fitzgerald said. "The onus is on us to police our own clients.”
He says this new survey is reminding him he can’t just focus on his patients, and he also needs to look out for owners.
Professor Lee Newman helped conduct the survey, which also found 45 percent of the vets knew of a pet owner or member of their team who was abusing opioids
"We were really shocked to see that the veterinary community, first of all, had not done much research on they might be contributing through their prescriptions to the opioid epidemic,” he said.
Veterinarians are able to prescribe, stock and sell the drugs. Another 12 percent of the vets surveyed said they were aware of a staff member diverting opioids or abusing them.
"This is such a huge epidemic were in that it was inevitable that veterinarians would start to see those kinds of signs," Newman said.
He’s confident that these statistics are larger across the country, and he hopes to conduct a national survey soon.
"We don't even really know how much of the total burden of opioids that are getting out into the community are finding their way by way of veterinary prescriptions," he said.
Newman says vets need to get educated, so his team developed an online course to teach them what signs to look out for -- something Fitzgerald already trains his pharmacy members and team to check on when clients come in for a visit.
"The potential for abuse is there,” Fitzgerald said. "They come in, and they're too familiar with the drug name, and they're too glib with it. And they know the dosage, and they know more than the general public would know.”
The first step to recognizing that vets do play a role in this epidemic.
"We do see the potential for abuse and we need to recognize it and be aware of it and deal with it," Fitzgerald said.