What the FDA's Recent Advisory on Online Pet Pharmacies and Veterinary Avarice Have in Common
While I was out of town a couple of weeks ago, USA Today ran a piece titled "FDA warns pet owners about buying online pet meds," on how the our nation’s food and drug czars have thought it wise to issue advisories for those who would buy their pet meds online.
It’s an important topic I’ve discussed here before. And one I like to write about as often as I can, since I view it as so important to the health and welfare of my patients and of pets at large.
Why? Here’s what USA Today had to say on September 28:
[The] FDA reported Tuesday it has found companies that sell unapproved pet drugs and counterfeit pet products, make fraudulent claims, dispense prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, and sell expired drugs. A copy of the information you can print out can be found on their website.
As USA Today is wont to do in cases where past columns or FullyVetted blog posts overlap with timely topics, it took this opportunity to use me as a resource (for which I love my editors dearly, by the way). Here’s how it went:
Some online dealers are reputable, but Patty Khuly, a veterinarian who writes a column for USA TODAY, suggests it's really most safe to get drugs from your vet.
(And here’s the column in which I entered my plea for safe online purchase.)
Pretty innocuous, right? Too bad it occasioned a few impassioned e-mails and comments from readers incensed at my veterinary protectionist stance. They claimed I wanted to keep drug and product sales exclusive to my profession for our direct financial benefit.
Others lambasted me for being in big pharma’s pocket, keeping alternative chains of distribution closed for enhanced profitability. This so-called "gray-market" diversion through third parties (via other countries or through veterinarians who buy in bulk and re-sell to online suppliers) is a big pet peeve of mine. But not because big pharma remunerates me. It’s because it makes it hard to tell which drugs and products are on the up-and-up and which are not.
Here’s an excerpt from one e-mail which offered up both these sellout possibilities as the reason for my milquetoast assertion; essentially, that "it’s really most safe to get drugs from your vet." (btw, this was from a person who is an MD running an online pharmacy):
Therefore if you are writing your column to protect your private sales and personal vet business, I understand. However if you are writing this article because of a grant or loan or other benefit given to you by Big Pharma, then you are part of the issue, and not part of the solution.
To which I finally had to respond:
Neither is the case. I write as an independent veterinary journalist, not as a practice owner or as an individual with a financial stake in the pharmaceutical or veterinary private practice industries.
In fact, I am staunchly anti-protectionist in my stance. In other words, I do not support my profession's desired stranglehold on "veterinary only" products. I value open access and try to get my clients the best prices so my patients can access the best care their owners can afford. We are in complete agreement on this.
What I do object to, however, is the lack of transparency in the system. I have held counterfeit products in my hands. I’ve seen expired meds filled for recent prescriptions. Hence, it is no confabulation on my part when I report that they do exist and they may pose a risk to my patients.
The diversion of products via gray markets — specifically when the source of the product cannot be identified because the pharmacies will not divulge their sources — is what I cannot sanction. I do not oppose the legitimate sale of licensed products that can be traced directly to the manufacturer.
Is it so wrong to expect clarity of origin in the products I recommend and the drugs I prescribe? As an advocate for my patient's safety, I will stand behind my assertion that they deserve nothing less.
That was my rebuttal. But, as always, I could have been more emphatic. I have frequently reiterated my stance (on this blog and elsewhere) that veterinarians should get out of the business of drug and product sales once and for all. After all, it does nothing for our credibility and it’s NOT what I went to vet school to do. How many times do I have to say it before it’ll get through to those who would unfairly accuse me of avarice?
Dr. Patty Khuly
Pic of the day: "Vincent Surfs" by Me