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Spokane veterinary clinics stay vigilant for possible opioid abusers

While SouthCare staff watch for these signs, Coulson said the clinic also follows the FDA's recommendation of using alternatives to opioids to manage a pet's pain.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Officials with the Federal Drug Administration say opioid addicts are hurting their pets on purpose to get their hands-on painkillers.

Dr. Suzanne Coulson at SouthCare Animal Medical Center says this isn't something the clinic sees often.

"We kind of have to use our judgment. And if we get that nagging feeling that this might be diverted, this is not going to the pet, it may be going to the owner, the owner may be selling it," Coulson said.

Coulson does recall one case where another veterinary clinic in the area alerted them to a dog owner going to different clinics for pain killers. They call this vet shopping.

"There was a client that came in with an older dog that was clearly arthritic. We do have dogs on some pain medications. Some of them are opiates, some of them are not. And so, he was requesting an opiate form of painkiller, which we did actually dispense. And it was a significant quantity because it was a big dog. And then we found out he was going to multiple clinics in the area and doing the same thing," Coulson explained.

The FDA lists warning signs for when a pet owner is potentially abusing opioids. They include suspect injuries in a new animal patient, asking for specific medications by name, asking for refills for lost or stolen medications and if the pet owner is insistent in their request.

While SouthCare staff watch for these signs, Coulson said the clinic also follows the FDA's recommendation of using alternatives to opioids to manage a pet's pain.

"Unfortunately, we have animal that are in pain and we want to do what we can to help them. So, we try to use other non-opiate, or habit-forming type of drugs," she said.

The FDA also urges veterinarians to have a safety plan in case they come across someone they believe has hurt an animal to get a hold of drugs.  

At SouthCare Clinic, if there is are signs of opioid abuse, staff can report it to law enforcement. But they say, thankfully they haven't needed to.

"I feel very responsible for making sure I'm not contributing to the problems," Coulson said.