FDA warning veterinarians of pet owners harming animals to get opioids

The FDA has issued a warning and is putting new rules in place to protect animals after reports of animals being harmed in order for addicts to get access to drugs (WSYX/WTTE)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WSYX/WTTE) - There are alarming reports of new victims in the growing opioid epidemic: family pets.

Veterinarians have reported family pets are being hurt, all so addicts can get their hands on more drugs. Now the Food and Drug Administration is sending out a major warning to veterinarians. The FDA is also putting new rules in place to protect animals.

A recent investigation outlined numerous cases where pets were harmed just so the owners could get their hands on opioid medications. It's something veterinarians in Ohio are well aware of and many are now taking steps to ensure animals are safe.

"It's tragic because our goal is to relieve pain, relieve suffering, and to provide the best care for an animal possible," said veterinarian Kristin Caudy.

Caudy is disturbed to say the least. Her job as a veterinarian at Village Gate Animal hospital is to love and care for animals. She said it's always heartbreaking to learn someone is out to harm them. "I don't even have words for it. It's just atrocious and I think anyone who would do that really needs some intervention," said Caudy.

It's not just a warning for Caudy, she says she has run into the problem herself.

"I can remember one instance where someone came in for tramadol, which is an opioid like pain medication, and they used an animal that was aggressive. So it was hard to examine for signs of pain, but they knew all the right things to say and the medications to request," said Caudy.

It's not only a concern here in Ohio, it's a growing nationwide problem. States like Kentucky, Texas, Utah and Colorado are also sending out warnings.

The FDA released a list of recommendations as a guide for veterinarians. Among them: using alternatives to opioids, educating pet owners about possible misuse, and even urging veterinarians to have a safety plan in place in case they encounter someone they believe has hurt an animal in an effort to get ahold of drugs.

Dustin Mets, the CEO of CompDrug, a leading drug treatment center in Columbus, says this issue is a prime example of the dangerous pull of addiction. "What doesn't make sense in the brain of someone not suffering from opioid addiction makes perfect rational sense to someone who is, because if they don't have that opiate they might as well not have food, not have water, not have air. They need that opiate! You have to understand that for someone suffering from opioid addiction, this is the most important thing right now. This is survival," said Mets.

Caudy for one is certainly taking steps to ensure animals in her care are not harmed. "It just goes to the point that when people are addicted to these very potent controlled substances that they will do anything to get their fix," Caudy said.

Local veterinarians that spoke with ABC 6/FOX 28 said that there are a few laws already on the books here in Ohio to address the problem. One example, doctors have to report every time they send an opioid or other controlled substance home with a pet owner.

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