FDA releases new tools to help veterinarians fight opioid abuse

The United States is battling an epidemic of opioid abuse that claimed 42,000 lives and caused 1,000 emergency room visits per day in 2016.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knows that veterinarians are on the front lines of that fight. And “doctor-shopping” patients are only part of the problem—a new survey of 189 Colorado veterinarians revealed that close to 45% knew of a client or member of their team who was abusing opioids, and 12% said they were aware of a staff member abusing and/or diverting opioids.

With so many lives in the balance, keeping opioids secure in the veterinary practice while retaining access for patients who need pain control is more important than ever.

That’s why yesterday, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine published a list of online resources to help veterinarians comply with federal and state regulations for prescribing, storing, and disposing of these products; understand how to help overdosed pets; and identify signs that could indicate the potential for abuse.

Although the FDA developed in-depth training modules to educate healthcare professionals on the safe use of opioids in acute and chronic pain management in human medicine, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, acknowledges that there hasn’t been a lot of information tailored specifically for veterinary medicine.

“That’s why we have developed [these new resources] containing information and recommendations specifically for veterinarians who stock and administer opioids . . . to ensure they have additional context regarding the potential for people to misuse the products that they are prescribing to their animal patients,” Gottlieb said.

“While opioids are just one part of the veterinarian’s medical arsenal for treating pain in animals, it’s important to understand the role veterinarians, who stock and administer these drugs, play in combatting the abuse and misuse of pain medications,” Gottlieb added.

Gottlieb points out this is especially important because the only FDA-approved opioid for use in animals (Recuvyra, a fentanyl product) is not currently marketed by the manufacturer. Pharmaceutical companies are discontinuing products like Recuvyra to avoid the possibility of the drugs being obtained or used illegally.

That resulted in a lack of products that were FDA approved specifically for use in animals, which left veterinarians scrambling to prescribe products originally approved for use in humans when they needed opioid pain medications for pets.

Tramadol, for instance, which has its own potential for abuse.

But Gottlieb remains upbeat: “Working together, I believe that we can make progress in preventing new cases of addiction while ensuring appropriate and rational prescribing of opioids for human and animal patients with medical need.”

Photo credit: © iStock/teddyandmia


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