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Opioid legislation creating strain for Valley veterinarians, pets

(Creative Commons)

PHOENIX — Opioid legislation in Arizona may be having a negative effect on Arizona pets.

In June 2017, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey declared the high rates of opioid use and related deaths an epidemic. This led to the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act, legislation that helped provide resources for those struggling with opioid addiction as well as create guidelines for opioid prescribers.

The legislation not only changed how doctors prescribe medication to human patients but also, how they prescribe opioids to their furry patients as well.

Valley veterinarian Brian Serbin, who owns Ingleside Animal Hospital in Phoenix, said the legislation is meant to keep pet owners from abusing medication prescribed to their pets.

“I mean it’s not common but we’ve had clients or people seeking drugs, supposedly for their pets but possibly for their own use,” Serbin said.

He said the major changes include continuous education for physicians, the limit on how many opioids can be prescribed at once and the availability of certain medications.

Serbin said the good thing about this legislation is that it is making people aware of the problem.

“Most people are honest and most people are there because their pet needs to be seen but it just makes veterinarians aware that there may be people out there whose intention isn’t the best interest of that animal,” Serbin said. “It’s maybe because they want to obtain medication in a not so legal manner.”

But, he said this legislation has serious drawbacks for veterinarians.

“Certain injectable medications that we use for pre-surgical induction and post-surgical pain have been in short supply and it’s made veterinarians have to think outside the box and adjust their anesthetic protocol.”

Serbin said, that it in turn, takes a toll on pets with chronic pain and those recovering from surgery.

“[Veterinarians] adjust which medications are sent home or used for pain control because of the shortages caused by the opioid epidemic.

The new limitations also put an extra burden on pet owners.

“They have to come back more frequently to a veterinary hospital to pick up medication from time to time,” Serbin said. “Whereas before we could send home as much medication as we thought was necessary to treat that animal’s condition.”

Serbin said that the overall impact of the Arizona Opioid Epidemic Act on veterinarians has been an unintentional stress on the field.

“I’m not so certain there’s any positive to it,” he said. “I don’t see a positive at all. I think it’s a negative, personally. Unfortunately, until the human side figures out these problems I think it’s going to have an impact on veterinary medicine.”

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