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Drug abusers may be injuring pets to get pain killers

Ohio Attorney General’s office has heard complaints, state lawmakers take step to crack down on abusers.

Ohio’s war on prescription drug abuse has a new frontline: The veterinarian’s office.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is working with the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and state licensing boards to educate veterinarians about possible abuse by people who seek medications for dogs, cats and other pets.

Jill Del Greco, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said they have heard from police officers and community leaders that people are either abusing drugs rightfully prescribed to pets or intentionally injuring animals to obtain the drugs.

Lawmakers took a first step to deal with the issue Wednesday through language inserted in a bill toughening penalties for cruelty to “companion animals” such as dogs and cats and animals that live indoors. The Ohio House approved House Bill 274 on Wednesday in a 90-1 vote. Similar legislation addressing animal cruelty has passed the House in the past but not the Senate.

Jack Advent of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association said veterinarians haven’t seen evidence of the problem, but they’re happy to proactively work with the attorney general on prevention efforts. Advent said opioids are usually prescribed for animals post-surgery and suffering from arthritis and other long-term illnesses, so it would be hard to fake an illness for drugs.

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“If someone would abuse their animal, I’d like to think a lot of our members would recognize it wasn’t an accident, it was abuse to begin with,” Advent said.

Education materials for veterinarians will include tips for identifying abuse as well as suggestions to patients for how to dispose of excess medication. Del Greco said the pet owner might not be abusing the medication, but a family member might take it or try to sell it.

“Doctors might have a preconceived notion of who might be a prescription drug abuser but this is the type of problem that could affect any family,” Del Greco said.

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