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Written by leading veterinarians to provide you with the information you need to care for your pets.

The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

Dangerous Drugs

I don’t think it comes as a surprise to any of you that veterinary clinics have controlled substances. Opioids, ketamine, barbiturates, and euthanasia solutions all require a DEA license and are kept under lock and key with (hopefully) strict logbooks recording their entry into the clinic, their use, and bottle disposal. This, naturally, is the number one reason why our clinics are occasionally broken into and ransacked.

Crossing over into the large animal world, it again should be no surprise that there are usually controlled substances on our vet trucks. Running from farm to farm all day, we stock up on the stuff since we never know when we’ll need to anesthetize a horse or euthanize something. This brings up two points:

1. Vet trucks can also be victim to burglary, especially given some of the quiet back roads we frequent when driving cross-country.

2. Recent headlines from Northern California indicate the DEA is cracking down on ambulatory vets; not to help them prevent criminal activity but claiming the vets themselves are criminals for carrying controlled substances without registration to every single location they visit.

Let’s look at Issue Number One first. Few things make me angrier than having to worry about getting mugged IN MY OWN TRUCK for a stinkin’ bottle of ketamine. I myself have never felt threatened or in danger of this happening, but perhaps my time will come, like it has others.

I am also acutely aware that a growing proportion of the ambulatory vet population is female, which some might see as an easy target. The most frustrating part of it is that I don’t know how to prevent this sort of crime. Perhaps you can’t, except to stay vigilant. My doors stay locked, as does the vet box in the back. I know my clients and my boss knows where I am when I go out on calls. I suppose communication and the ever-open suspicious eye are the best I can do. Of course, I could also take karate lessons.

Issue Number Two took me by surprise. Apparently the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (which of course I’ve never heard of, much less read) requires veterinarians (and mobile physicians) to have separate registrations for every location where they store, distribute, or dispense controlled substances. Since a truck moves around, a registration cannot be made for a truck, but rather a physical location. Obviously, the Congressmen who passed this law were not aware of my profession since this makes no sense at all, and lately, ambulatory vets in Northern California are being warned by the DEA to stop carrying controlled substances or face fines or other harsher penalties.

This has huge ramifications for the ambulatory profession, as it greatly hampers not only day-to-day treatments but also has humane issues: If you can’t carry euthanasia solution, what then? A gun? Currently, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is working to clarify this situation with the DEA. I’ll be following this very closely, I can assure you.

In my realm, there’s not much I can do about this DEA issue. I’m hoping it will run its course and the good federal agents will soon find something else to do (that wasn’t meant to be entirely sarcastic), and that this will be a problem that started in California and died in California.

But for all those would-be dope heads coming my way, I have two words for you: horse twitch. This is a fairly rudimentary devise used to restrain horses: mine is a four foot long stick of solid wood with a small loop of rope at the end which I use to twist around a horse’s upper lip. It sounds cruel if you’re not used to it, but twitching a horse’s lip like that puts them in a bit of a trance due to the release of endorphins, keeping them quiet. But you know what it’s also good for? That long wooden handle sure hurts when it smacks you in the head. My aim is pretty good too. You’ve been warned.

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: patpitchaya / via Shutterstock

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