A recent survey carried out by the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School for Public Health has revealed the alarming trend of addicts harming animals in order to get their hands on opioids.

The survey revealed that just 13 percent of vets were aware that an owner had intentionally harmed an animal to obtain opioids for their own recreational use. Crucially, 44 percent of respondents knew of a client or colleague with a long-term opioid habit. Two thirds of the vets questioned in the survey were aware that they have a responsibility to prevent opioid abuse and misuse by humans.

Veterinarians are able to prescribe very powerful pain-killing drugs, and a growing number of addicts are exploiting that fact to feed their habit. This distressing and tragic trend involves the deliberate harming of animals — mostly household pets by their owners — for the sole purpose of sourcing powerful opioids.

This Problem Demonstrates the Desperation of Addicts

Opioid Addicts Harming AnimalsAnimal abuse is always a controversial, heart-wrenching subject to address. But the fact that drug addiction is involved makes the issue even more difficult to tackle — for family members, law enforcement and counsellors alike. People treat their pets as if they were a son or daughter, and it can be a very touchy and emotional situation to handle for those involved.

Many of the cases being reported involve addicts and their own pets. And while sympathy for the abusers is obviously thin on the ground, it’s worth remembering the pure hell addicts go through every day.

Opioids are particularly effective pain-killers, but they are also highly destructive when they fall into the wrong hands. These potent drugs bind to the areas of the brain that control emotions and pain. The feel-good hormone dopamine soars as a result, and the addict experiences temporary feelings of intense relaxation and euphoria.

This positive feeling is so powerful, however, the brain becomes dependent on it relatively quickly. The urge to use again is powerful — so much so even the most loving of pet owners can end up causing harm to their animals for their next hit.

A Stern Warning from the FDA

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been forced to speak out on the issue following a sudden rise in the number of pet abuse cases. Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb from the FDA recognized that vets haven’t been kept in the loop about the problem. With this in mind, he announced a resource guide created specifically for veterinarians worried about the issue of opioid abuse.

Included in the guide is information on the relevant state and federal laws concerning opioids. There is also guidance on alternative pain-killing drugs, as well as opioid storage and prescription. Most importantly, the FDA has issued advice on how to spot pet owners with an opioid addiction. It is hoped that a more informed veterinarian industry will drastically reduce both prescriptions and the related animal abuse.

Each state has its own guidelines and licensing requirements when it comes to prescription drugs. However, the industry’s professional body has its own guidelines on the issue. In addition, vets must be licensed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

There is a fine balance to be struck between the humane treatment of animals and the responsible prescription of opioid pain relief. Now that veterinarians are being informed about the redirection of these powerful drugs, and the animal abuse being perpetrated to make it happen, we should begin to see a gradual decline of reported cases.

The Harsh Reality of Opioid-Related Animal Abuse

According to a report from the Courier Journal, an owner sourced Tramadol from two different veterinary clinics in Louisville for her injured dog. Suspicious clinicians called the police when they noticed that several cuts on the dog in question were too ‘clean’ to be accidental.
After claiming the cuts (one of which required eight stitches) were caused by a gutter, the owner was eventually indicted on charges of obtaining a controlled substance by making false statements and animal torture. She was sent to prison for four years for her crimes.

There will always be addicts who are able to abuse the system — and their pets — in order to obtain opioids. Thankfully, the FDA and other national organizations are now taking the problem seriously. But despite various educational and awareness campaigns, more can still be done to help both the abused animals and the desperate addicts who feel they have nowhere else to turn.

For example, doctors are able to search a state database to check whether or not a patient has been prescribed opioids by another doctor. But because a vet treats the pet (and not the owner), such a check isn’t currently available to practicing veterinarians.

It is clear that there needs to be a multi-organization campaign to flag this type of animal abuse as soon as it happens. Animal welfare groups, veterinarian organizations, law enforcement and social services all need to be involved. But let’s not forget the addicts in all of this. They need help too. After all, their mental state must by very poor if they’ve resorted to harming the animals they purport to love.

If you’re struggling with opioid addiction, ask for help before things get desperate. Talk to a friend, your doctor or someone who knows what you’re going through. People who resort to hurting their own pets in order to satisfy their opioid habit have often reached a point of utter desperation — yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Don’t let fear of judgement get in the way of your recovery: the only way to right your wrongs is to better yourself. Let today be that day: if you need professional help for an addiction, Scottsdale Recovery Center can provide in-depth, individualized assistance. Call us today.


Talk to Someone Who’s Been There. Talk to Someone Who Can Help. Scottsdale Recovery Center holds the highest accreditation (Joint Commission) and is Arizona’s premier rehab facility since 2009. Call 602-346-9142.