Survey cites client misuse of veterinary medicines


Pocatello, Idaho-Rodeo-riding, horseracing and healthcare-working clients are among those most likely to take veterinary drugs for personal use, DVMs report.

Pocatello, Idaho-Rodeo-riding, horseracing and healthcare-working clients are among those most likely to take veterinary drugs for personal use, DVMs report.

That's according to a survey of 392 Idaho practitioners published recently in The Journal of Rural Health. Lead author Dr. John Erramouspe, an Idaho State University pharmacist and professor, says access to drugs combined with a self-sufficient attitude and a little bit of knowledge represent those most likely to take their pet's medication. And while the veterinary feedback is anecdotal, it represents a largely overlooked problem: People are turning to veterinary drugs for do-it-yourself treatments.

"I've heard of people using veterinary drugs to rid themselves of bacterial infections, even ending pregnancy with drugs meant for animals," Erramouspe says. "People might think this is just something that goes on in Hickville. Well I don't believe that. This survey took place in mostly rural Idaho, but it's just as easy for the dog owner in New York City to misuse veterinary drugs.

"It's not just the uneducated who do this; there are some real mavericks out there."

Acting on gut feelings

That's the sentiment of Dr. Nancy Katz, owner of Katz and Dogs Animal Hospital in Montclair, N.J. While the practitioner says she usually encounters the opposite - owners treating their pets with human medications - she has come across a few who seemingly fit the mold of veterinary drug users.

"I think owners most often tend to abuse pet tranquilizers," Katz says. "I watch who I prescribe them to, especially when I hear a client say, 'My last vet gave the dog Valium, but I was so nervous I took it all.'

"If I have a gut feeling that a client might use the veterinary drugs, I either won't write the prescription or prescribe a more ambiguous drug like acepromazine. Even if it's not as good as Valium, they're less likely to take it when I point out that it's not designed for human use."

Survey critiques

While the survey undoubtedly underscores a problem, veterinarians like Dr. Rena Carlson, who co-researched the work, says the results have their shortcomings. Small sample size is an example - of the 1,077 questionnaires mailed to veterinarians registered with the Idaho Board of Veterinary Medicine just 36.4 percent responded. Much of the information is subjective, and in order to get a more accurate read of what veterinary drugs the public misuses, questions should really be posed to the users. That would be tough to pinpoint, she says.

"We don't have time to find people who misuse veterinary drugs and talk to them," Carlson says. "And with such a small sample, it's tough to say these numbers are anywhere near accurate. The survey is more anecdotal than anything."

Despite its limitations, Carlson says she knows the issue is real. "My whole life I've known of the potential for using veterinary drugs. I'm sure all veterinarians think about this."

In the news

DVM-prescribed drugs aren't the only pet medications susceptible to misuse. The survey points out that the top two conditions people most likely treat with pet drugs include pain and arthritis and respiratory infections, which people often attempt to alleviate using over-the-counter medications (Table 2). This summer, Pentagon doctors revealed that an Army Special Forces soldier attempted to cure his sinus infection by taking fish antibiotics bought at a local pet store, explaining the drug source as "common knowledge among all branches of the American Special Forces community."

In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine the physicians highlighted the case and what they claim is a potentially dangerous loophole in consumer safety laws. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials say they're not looking into the issue and addressed the article with this written response:

"We are not aware of this being a widespread practice. Most of the products available through pet stores now are formulated and packaged in such a way that it would not be likely for the consumer to purchase these for personal use."

CVM reacts

But according to Dr. Joseph Paige, an official with the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, Erramouspe's work is important. In a written commentary, Paige notes that while the study is small, its results should be "widely disseminated in the veterinary profession."

"Hopefully it will stimulate further discussions and provide an opportunity to address the scientific, public health, regulatory and legal issues surrounding such practices," Paige says, calling for broad education campaigns directed at health professionals and high-risk populations.

"We in the public health community need to do a better job characterizing and explaining the risk of using these drugs inappropriately in humans and use sound data to develop public health policy in a timely manner," he adds. "How we handle the results revealed in this study is a tremendous challenge to the public health community."

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