Drug Diversion and Veterinarians

JULY 31, 2017
Cmdr John Burke
Prescription drug abuse is usually thought to be perpetuated only by individuals visiting physicians, dentists, and others who treat humans. However, sometimes people use their pets to divert and abuse pharmaceuticals. Veterinarians can prescribe virtually any prescription drug, making them a potential target of drug seekers looking for opioids, benzodiazepines, and, in large animal practices, anabolic steroids.

Many years ago, the office I worked in encountered a young man who had a very small dog named Dolly. The man visited local veterinarians, telling them that Dolly had “a lot of anxiety.” He explained that Dolly’s past bouts with anxiety had always been solved with diazepam, which, of course, was the reason for his visit. Every month, the man took Dolly to 5 veterinarians, all of whom sent her home with tranquilizers. If she did suffer from an anxiety problem, it was never treated. My office got word of the fraud and arrested Dolly’s owner, but he promptly made bond and continued his scam with 5 additional veterinarians. The owner’s second arrest finally put a stop to his scheming.

In one of my team’s most incredible drug cases involving a veterinarian, a dog owner tried to obtain hydrocodone cough syrup to maintain his addiction. He even trained his dog to cough on cue to demonstrate a symptom to the leery veterinarian, who called my office. Eventually, that dog owner was arrested.

Veterinarians, especially those treating large animals or working at horse tracks, can be prime targets for individuals seeking anabolic steroids. One enthusiastic young man convinced personnel in a veterinarian’s office that he was just so fond of animals and wanted to work at the clinic without pay, which he did for a couple of days a week for a few months. When he abruptly left without notice, the staff discovered a significant amount of anabolic steroid medicine was missing from its stock. Turns out that the so-called animal lover had been providing a local gymnasium with muscle-enhancing products from the veterinarian’s office.

Veterinarians’ offices can also be targeted by burglars looking for controlled substances with significant street value and potential for abuse and addiction. Because many of these offices have the drugs in stock, tight after-hours security is very important. This should include alarms that automatically notify the police when activated and surveillance cameras that are always ready. Having a cell phone backup for the alarm is essential in case the phone line is cut.

Veterinarians can be a source of diversion, too, because they have ready access to drugs that can be abused. One veterinarian wrote prescriptions for dogs with serious injuries allegedly being held at her clinic’s kennel. She would then pick up the pills from the pharmacy. The prescriptions were all for narcotics and were written for patients and owners, but the veterinarian kept the drugs for herself.

Another case involved a veterinarian receiving large amounts of phentermine from a pharmaceutical distributor. This came to my team’s attention through overpurchase reports from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. The veterinarian in question, who received 2000 to 3000 phentermine pills a year, claimed that he had an overweight Labrador retriever at home who he was treating with the diet drugs. In truth, he was treating an overweight family member with the weight-loss medication.

These cases highlight a pharmacist’s need to diligently review prescriptions that originate in veterinarians’ offices. Although veterinary drug diversion and abuse is not the most common method, it can be easy for drug seekers to use their pets to feed addictions or make money by obtaining and selling drugs.
Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the past president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@rxdiversion.com or via rxdiversion.com.


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