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Utah veterinarians warned of ‘doctor shopping’ at clinics

Posted at 10:10 PM, Jun 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-12 00:10:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Commerce is warning veterinarians about a dangerous trend seen at vet clinics.

It involves people bringing pets into clinics for reasons that have nothing to do with the animals, and veterinarians say it can be hard to catch.

Dr. Drew Allen at Brickyard Animal Hospital said he’s seen it.

A dog or cat owner comes into the clinic, saying their animal needs a refill on medication because the medication was lost. Or maybe the person explains their puppy has health issues and requests a certain drug prescription.

But they really want the prescription for themselves.

“There has been documented cases around the country, where people will deliberately harm their pet, just to be able to take it in and get pain medications for it,” Allen said.

They are faking pet injuries for the sake of getting ahold of medications like opioids. The customers are essentially doctor shopping at the vet office.

Allen has seen the suspicious behavior. He said people might fake their pet’s medical history, claim their animals need medications for problems like anxiety or chronic pain, or they might visit multiple vets to fill prescriptions at various places.

And it's not too hard for these vet clinic doctor shoppers to cover their tracks.

“That pet — we don’t even know if it has the same name, each clinic it goes to,” Allen said.

What makes it even harder to detect — Allen said veterinarians in Utah aren’t legally required to use the Controlled Substance Database that other doctors and dentists are required to use when writing prescriptions.

The database, he explained, allows doctors to look up what prescriptions are tied to a person’s name, how often the medications are prescribed and how many doctors are filling the prescription.

Veterinarians are prescribing medicines for animals, which makes the situation different.

“It’s harder for us to recognize or catch that someone is doctor shopping,” he said.

Allen is the chair of the Veterinary Licensing Board within the Department of Commerce Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing. He helped draft a letter warning of doctor shopping at vet clinics and hospitals.

The letter outlines the signs to look for that a client is potentially abusing opioids and might be at the vet office for the wrong reasons.

While veterinarians aren’t required by law to check the Controlled Substance Database, he encouraged them to get an account in the database. That way, if a veterinarian is suspicious, he said they can look up the pet’s owner.

While Allen said it’s not a big problem, veterinarians need to be aware of it so they can make sure to take care of clients and avoid problems.

“It’s a sad thing that addiction would be so gripping on people, that there would be so much that they might do,” he said.

That’s why he does what he can do to make sure medications are for his four-legged patients only.