Some Maine veterinarians are uncomfortable with the new role an opioid law is forcing them to play in the drug epidemic.
Governor LePage’s emergency legislation to “prevent opiate abuse” outlines new rules for prescribing opioids.
Part of the bill requires veterinarians to check a pet owner’s prescriptions before deciding to give their animal opioids.
“We then have to make a decision, by eye-balling it, as to whether or not we think it’s okay to prescribe this for the pet,” said Dr. Gail Mason, a Veterinary Internist in Portland. “The inference being: is the owner using these drugs?”
Dr. Mason worries that checking a human’s medical information while deciding a pet’s prescription is inappropriate. “I feel it is out of the purview of veterinarians to do that,” she said, adding that it could be in violation of federal HIPAA laws.
“We are made to go in, violate the client’s records, humiliate them – and I don’t think it’s going to save lives,” said Mason. “Anyone will tell you that we’re not big suppliers of medication to addicts.”
But Governor LePage’s spokesperson disagrees. In a written statement, Adrienne Bennett said:
“We included veterinarians – with the support and urging of physicians and other prescribers – because we know that opiate addicts are diverting drugs from their pets... We cannot afford gaps in our system of accountability. Addicts test the system for gaps and if every prescriber participates in this system except for veterinarians, they are going to be begin diverting their drugs more heavily through veterinarians.”
A spokesperson for the Maine Veterinary Medical Association said many vets in Maine are concerned about the new rules, but she understands the reason why they were added to the law.
“I think the epidemic has reached a point where people are really looking at veterinarians, and even though we are a small part of the problem, they want everyone included who uses these medications,” said Dr. Amanda Bisol.
Bisol said the MVMA may push for rule changes in the law. Veterinarians who do not comply with the rules could face a $250 fine, for each violation.