Veterinarians need your help; many of us are currently on the lam. We’re breaking the law but have decided that it is in our patients’ best interests that we continue to do so. We’re all just hoping that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has bigger fish to fry and will leave us alone.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) is the federal law that regulates the manufacture, importation, possession, use, and distribution of drugs and chemicals with a potential for abuse or dependency. As the CSA is currently written, it is illegal for a veterinarian to take a controlled substance off of the site that is registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency. In most cases, this is the veterinarian’s clinic or home/office for mobile practitioners.

What are we supposed to do when we need to treat a patient outside of the clinic with a controlled substance like morphine for pain or pentobarbital for euthanasia? House-call veterinarians, large animal practitioners, and doctors who deal with wildlife or help out in emergencies are all in a real bind. In essence, we are forced to choose between providing legal but substandard care or treating our patients to the best of our abilities and breaking the law.

When this issue first arose I didn’t take it too seriously. I wrongfully assumed that since this aspect of the CSA was without merit, the DEA would just turn a blind eye to it. Turns out it’s not that easy. They are mandated to enforce the law as it is written, even if they don’t agree with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dodging DEA agents on every house call I make, but the agency has notified some veterinarians in California and Washington State that they are in violation of the CSA. I read about an equine vet (in California, I think) who responded to this information by deciding to euthanize horses via gunshot rather than risk an encounter with the DEA over carrying euthanasia solution in his vehicle.

The only way to rectify the situation is for Congress to pass an amendment to the CSA. H.R.1528, the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act of 2013, is currently in committee and will hopefully be put to a vote during this congressional session. It changes the CSA by adding the following statement:

a registrant who is a veterinarian shall not be required to have a separate registration in order to transport and dispense controlled substances in the usual course of veterinary practice at a site other than the registrant's registered principal place of business or professional practice, so long as the site of dispensing is located in a State where the veterinarian is licensed to practice veterinary medicine.

Help your veterinarian by visiting the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Legislative Action Center and sending an e-mail to your congressperson. The site asks for your zip code and will automatically address and forward your email to the correct office. The boilerplate that pops up is written from the viewpoint of a veterinary professional but can be easily changed. Comments from animal owners might even be more influential than letters from veterinarians.

Thanks in advance.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image:Composite image from Anteromite and toranosuke / via Shutterstock