If you’re a veterinarian and a DEA registrant, SORS Online will affect you—to a point

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Last year, Congress passed the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act.

Yes, it’s a mouthful.

The goal of the act is twofold: to make medical treatment for opioid addiction more widely available, and to crack down on illicit drug usage. To help with the crack-down part, the act requires that all US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) registrants who distribute controlled substances report suspicious orders to the DEA.

To facilitate reporting, the DEA launched the Suspicious Orders Report System (SORS) Online, a new centralized database, late last month.

NEWStat talked to Ashley S. Morgan, DVM, CAE, director of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Division of State Advocacy about what the new regulations mean for the profession. She’s spoken to DEA officials about the new reporting requirements and says the impact on most veterinarians will be “negligible.”

That’s because SORS Online is all about reporting the distribution of controlled substances by DEA registrants. And while most veterinarians occasionally prescribe controlled substances for a patient in their capacity as a DEA registrant, that’s very different from distributing.

“There aren’t many veterinary practitioners who are distributing controlled substances,” Morgan said. “Distribution is when you provide or transfer inventory from one registrant to another.”

So what constitutes distribution in the eyes of the DEA?

“We’re talking about instances where a veterinarian is running low on, say, Ketamine,” Morgan said. Suppose it’s the end of the day and their order isn’t coming from their distributer until the next day—or it’s the weekend or it’s at night and it’s an emergency—regardless, they’re out of Ketamine and they need some. “So they call a neighboring veterinarian and say, ‘Hey, can I buy a bottle of ketamine from you?’ If that neighboring veterinarian gives it to them, that would be distribution.”

Whether it’s suspicious or not would be your call. If so, you’d be required to report it. “What constitutes being suspicious is going to depend on the situation,” Morgan said.

According to the DEA, suspicious orders are defined as but not limited to:

  • Orders of unusual size
  • Orders that deviate substantially from a normal pattern
  • Orders of unusual frequency

For example, Morgan said, if it’s a veterinarian you know well and trust, an afterhours request for some Ketamine likely wouldn’t raise any warning flags and you wouldn’t be required to report it.

If, on the other hand, a veterinarian you’ve never heard of calls you out of the blue and asks for a cup of ketamine, “That might be suspicious.”

Basically, Morgan said, reporting is a judgment call.

What isn’t is whether or not you should have a way to report it: “All registrants have to have a system for reporting in place. A policy [for how] they’ll handle any requests for suspicious orders,” Morgan said. The DEA advises that the policy should be in writing and could be requested during an inspection. If you’re not sure how to go about reporting a suspicious order, Morgan said the AVMA created a sample template for veterinary hospitals that need to develop a reporting plan. “You can print it out or use it to create your own.”

But remember: SORS Online isn’t for reporting a client who comes to with an off-the-wall story about how their pet needs painkillers ASAP. Morgan said that’s just doctor shopping, and while it’s a serious concern, there are protocols in place for dealing with that.

SORS Online isn’t one of them.

Find out more about the ins and outs of SORS Online here.

Photo credit: © iStock/sdbower