Medication misuse warrants veterinary curriculum reform


Prescription drugs indicated for animal health are often overlooked as factors contributing to this human epidemic

Photo: Stock

Photo: Stock

Veterinary and pharmacy faculty from The Ohio State University recently published an article titled, "Medication safety education: more than just a human concern?” in the Journal of the American Veterinary Association.1 The article highlights persistent trends in medication misuse, including that of veterinary drugs, and the need for increased education among veterinary students and the general public.1

Medication misuse refers to the consumption of medication in a way other than prescribed. Common forms of misuse include taking someone else’s medication or taking one’s medication for another indication than prescribed. However, increasing awareness regarding humans taking veterinary medications—an increasing trend that is contributing to the medication misuse epidemic—is needed.1

Veterinary prescription drugs are often overlooked as factors contributing to the epidemic. Nonetheless, studies show that among veterinary medications, analgesics, systemic antibiotics, and topical corticosteroids are all commonly misused by humans.1

Current opioid prescribing practices by veterinarians increase the potential for diversion and pose a risk to public health. Despite declining rates of opioid prescribing among humans, veterinary prescribing of Schedule II and III opioids has remained consistent.1

Reported diversion behaviors include harming pets and vet shopping, both of which are reportedly on the rise.1 In-hospital dispensing of opioids heightens the risk of diversion by making them more accessible to both the public and veterinary practice staff without pharmacist oversight. Additionally, institutional dispensing without child-resistant packaging contributes to poor public health outcomes by making children more susceptible to accidental exposure.1

Veterinarians are uniquely positioned to advocate for medication safety by routinely working with patients, clients, and other healthcare professionals. The article poses a call to action, urging veterinary schools to incorporate medication safety education into their co-curricular studies.1 Among the various teaching points, the authors emphasize a need for increased awareness among veterinary students in the following areas:1

  • Human perceptions that drive medication misuse
  • Common medication diversion behaviors and how to identify them
  • Current prescribing practices contributing to misuse
  • Effective pain management strategies
  • Opportunities for misuse prevention education and interprofessional collaboration

By incorporating these focus areas into the new Competency-based Veterinary Education framework, students will be better equipped to advocate for the profession and for public safety, helping pets and humans alike.

Gabriela Resto is a 2023 PharmD Candidate at the University of Connecticut


  1. Aarnes TK, Schmuhl KK, Summers K, Sandidge BR. Medication safety education: more than just a human concern?. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2022;261(4):597-600. Published 2022 Dec 1. doi:10.2460/javma.22.09.0422
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