People Are Intentionally Harming Their Pets To Get Opioid Prescriptions, Veterinarians Train To Detect Abuse

The problem could be much deeper than what has been reported so far, a new study shows.

Animal abuse is on the rise as people seek opioid prescriptions from veterinarians.
Martin Mejia / AP Images

The problem could be much deeper than what has been reported so far, a new study shows.

Some people have been intentionally harming their pets in order to get opioid prescriptions, a practice that now has veterinarians on notice.

As KDVR reported, a study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus found that some people addicted to opioids have been hurting their pets — or sometimes even animals that do not belong to them — in order to trick veterinarians to prescribing painkillers. Many of these are similar to the opioid prescriptions given to humans suffering from chronic pain, and can be abused by those addiction to the drugs.

The doctors responsible for the investigation said that it’s likely veterinarians don’t yet understand the depth of the problem, and believe there are many more cases of intentional pet abuse than what’s been reported so far.

The medical community has already had some safeguards in place to prevent medical patients from lying about symptoms in order to get opioid prescriptions. Many have taken measures to end the practice known as “doctor shopping.” where those addicted to opioids will visit a number of different doctors to get prescriptions in order to avoid suspicion.

The warning about pet abuse comes amid a continued epidemic in opioid abuse across the nation. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse noted, the crisis was spurred by an over-prescription of opioid painkillers starting in the late 1990s and led to “widespread diversion and misuse of these medications” before it was clear to patients just how addictive they could be.

“Opioid overdose rates began to increase,” the report noted. “In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died as a result of an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. That same year, an estimated 2 million people in the United States suffered from substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers, and 591,000 suffered from a heroin use disorder (not mutually exclusive).”

These overdose deaths have now been called a public health crisis, and many states are putting measures in place to address the problem through education and treatment programs. But the problem of animal abuse related to these addictions has not been explored in depth before the recent study.

In Colorado, researchers are still trying to grasp just how widespread pet abuse could be, but they are already taking measures to curb this trend. In response to the study finding pet abuse is growing, the university has developed an online course to help veterinarians detect these cases of abuse, the KDVR report noted.