An estimated 218,000 deaths due to prescription opioid overdoses occurred in the U.S. from 1999-2017, representing the epidemic of our time, according to Lee Newman, MD.
Dr. Newman is director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health. During an Aug. 3 session at AVMA Convention 2019 in Washington, D.C., he shared findings from a unique study that asked whether veterinary medicine is contributing to the opioid crisis.
The short answer is yes. To what extent remains a question.
Dr. Newman was a co-author on the study "Prescription Opioid Epidemic: Do Veterinarians Have a Dog in the Fight?", which was published September 2018 in the American Journal of Public Health and involved a survey of 189 Colorado veterinarians in 2014.
Thirteen percent of surveyed veterinarians indicated they were aware of an animal owner who had intentionally made an animal ill, injured an animal, or made an animal appear to be ill or injured for the purpose of obtaining opioid medications; 44% were aware of opioid abuse or misuse by a client or a veterinary practice staff member; and 12% were aware of opioid abuse and diversion by a veterinary staff member.
Sixty-two percent of the surveyed veterinarians believed they had a role in preventing opioid abuse and misuse. Forty percent were unsure whether opioid abuse or misuse was a problem in their communities.
Seventy-three percent of respondents indicated that training on opioid abuse or misuse in veterinary school was fair, poor, or absent. Additionally, 64% said that, since entering practice, they had not completed continuing education on best practices for prescribing opioids.
Respondents identified three continuing education priorities: opioid abuse prevention (81%), pain management guidelines (55%), and identification of online resources on opioid use and abuse (54%). More than a third (36%) of respondents recommended improving the guidelines for the state's prescription drug monitoring program as well as tutorials to help improve access and use.
Dr. Newman recognizes that the study's small sample size limits the generalizability of the results, and the findings cannot be extrapolated to all practices. "Nonetheless, these data are sufficient to warrant immediate action," he said.
Related JAVMA content:
More opioids available to veterinarians during ongoing shortage (Feb. 1, 2019)
What veterinarians need to know about the opioid epidemic (Oct. 15, 2018)