Controlled substances laws could change

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Rep. Schrader
Rep. Kurt Schrader

Congress could consider legislation this year to counteract federal drug rules that prohibit many veterinarians from carrying and administering controlled substances at clients’ properties.

Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration have said veterinarians need to keep controlled substances in one place or register every location where they will be used. Information from the agency indicates the restrictions are mandated by federal law passed by Congress, and legislation would be needed to change them.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a congressman and veterinarian from Oregon, disagrees with the agency’s interpretation of the law, and he said it is a shame that legislation will be needed if DEA authorities remain intransigent about transportation of controlled substances. He hopes Congress will soon consider legislation on the subject, which he expects will be noncontroversial and easily understood by members of Congress.

This past spring, the California VMA reported that officials in the DEA’s Sacramento office had contacted some California veterinarians who registered their home addresses as their places of business; the messages from the DEA asked those veterinarians to provide the addresses of their actual places of business. Under the agency’s interpretation of the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, practitioners such as veterinarians need to apply and pay for a separate registration for each location where they store, distribute, or dispense controlled substances.

Our mission is to guarantee the availability of controlled substances for legitimate purposes. The DEA is not interested in keeping patients from getting needed medications.

Barbara Carreno, spokeswoman, Drug Enforcement Administration

Dr. Schrader said the controlled substances restrictions described by the DEA are “absolutely absurd” and indicative of an unthinking agency. As a former equine practitioner, he is very concerned about unintended complications and consequences “this sort of across-the-board bureaucratic restriction would have on our ability to practice quality veterinary medicine.”

Barbara Carreno, spokeswoman for the DEA, said the DEA has to enforce the Controlled Substances Act as it is written and enacted by Congress. If the public wants to see significant changes in regulations, she said, “Congress is the branch of government that has the authority to do that.”

“Our mission is to guarantee the availability of controlled substances for legitimate purposes. The DEA is not interested in keeping patients from getting needed medications.”

However, drug diversion, which the current regulations are intended to prevent, reduces availability for legitimate purposes. Carreno said good people can disagree on how to interpret the legal language, and the DEA is doing its best to enforce the law as written.

Dr. Schrader expressed doubt that any members of Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act with the assumption that federal authorities, in restricting access to narcotics, would also prevent medical professionals from dispensing drugs when performing in needed services. Comparing the issue with a new state law passed to give Oregon judges clarification on crosswalk rules, he indicated that the need for such clarification at state and federal levels is “the sort of idiocy that makes for profligation of a whole bunch of laws that are totally unnecessary.”

Dr. Jeff A. Blea, vice president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and a racetrack practitioner in Southern California, hopes the controlled substances laws will be re-evaluated and rewritten in a way that doesn’t ignore the needs of equine patients and veterinarians.

Veterinarians can drive 30 miles between calls to see backyard, performance, and racehorses that do not have on-site hospitals, Dr. Blea said. Those animals’ owners depend on veterinarians to come to their property, and the animals and clients will suffer if a veterinarian cannot access sedatives, muscle relaxants, and euthanasia solution when needed.

Dr. Blea is not aware of any veterinarians who have changed practices since the DEA interpretation of the law became more widely known earlier this year, although he is concerned that carrying such substances could violate the law. He thinks the issue could be addressed through a regulatory exemption for therapeutic uses or through legislation, and says a change is needed to enable veterinarians to live up to their oath and protect and maintain the health and welfare of their patients.

“If they’re prohibited from doing that because of a law that hasn’t been thoroughly vetted, that’s a shame,” Dr. Blea said.