Drug Diversion in Veterinary Medicine

Cmdr John Burke
Published Online: Tuesday, October 1, 2002
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Pharmaceutical diversion is generally thought of as an offense that is perpetrated only by persons visiting human practitioners?physicians, dentists, and others who treat people. The fact is that pet owners who are interested in diverting pharmaceuticals have also become part of the problem. Because veterinarians can prescribe virtually any prescription drug, diverters seeking drugs ranging from pain relievers to benzodiazepines may find the market lucrative.

One notable case was a young man who had a very small dog named Dolly. He visited local veterinarians in our area and told them that Dolly had ?a lot of anxiety.? He further explained that Dolly?s past bouts with anxiety had always been solved with doses of diazepam, which, of course, was the reason for his visit that day.

Five veterinarians were visited each month with Dolly, each one providing ?anxiety-ridden? Dolly with her tranquilizers. Dolly received none of the medication, so if she did suffer from an anxiety problem it was never treated.

One other dog owner was addicted to hydrocodone cough syrups. This owner also visited several veterinarians a month with his dog, but with a different twist. The pet owner actually had his dog trained to cough while with the doctor. This went on for some time until we put a stop to the drug offenses.

Veterinarians, especially those treating large animals or working at horse tracks, can be a target of those seeking anabolic steroids. One enthusiastic young man convinced personnel in a veterinarian?s office that he was fond of animals and wanted to work at the clinic without pay. He worked at the office a couple of days a week for a few months and then abruptly left without notice. The staff discovered that a significant amount of anabolic steroid medicine was missing from the stock after the man stopped showing up for work. The ?animal lover? had been providing a local gymnasium with muscle-enhancing products from the veterinarian?s office.

Veterinarians? offices also can become the target of burglars looking for anabolic steroids, or any other controlled substances with significant street values and potential for abuse and addiction. Because many of these offices have these drugs in stock, it is important that these offices be secure and have an alarm installed on the premises.

Veterinarians themselves can be the source of diversion, since these drugs are readily available for them to become involved in self-abuse issues. One local veterinarian would write prescriptions for dogs with serious injuries allegedly being held at the clinic?s kennel. The veterinarian would then personally pick up the pills from the pharmacy. The prescriptions were all for narcotics, and for nonexistent dogs and their owners.

One final case involved a veterinarian receiving large amounts of phentermine from a pharmaceutical distributor. This came to our attention through some overpurchase reports, and we wondered why a veterinarian would dispense 2000  to 3000 phenter-mine pills a year. His response was that he had an overweight Labrador retriever at home that he was treating with the diet drugs. The real answer was that he had an overweight family member he was treating with the weight-loss medication.

This information also points to the pharmacist?s need to be diligent in reviewing prescriptions that originate in veterinarians? offices. Although not the conventional method of diverting pharmaceuticals, it can be easy to use personal pets to feed addictions or to provide additional revenue for the prescription drug seeker.


Cmdr. John BurkeJohn Burke, director of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad, is a 32-year veteran of law enforcement.

For information, he can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, by phone at 513-336-0070, or via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com.



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