New Shocking Trend: Pet Owners Abuse Their Own Animals to Get a Dose of a Banned Drug
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY — August 28, 2018
A new trend in drug use has emerged in the US in recent months. While the government is addressing the issue of legalizing marijuana, people are mastering violence against their Pets to get themselves a dose of a banned drug.
DEA officials warn doctors that cases have indeed increased in the past few months.
One case in particular garnered international attention: A Kentucky woman used her husband's disposable razor blades to cut her mixed-breed retriever, Alice, on multiple occasions to get an opioid painkiller.
"I remember my initial feeling of disbelief – this can't be real," said Elizabethtown (Kentucky) police officer John Thomas, who investigated the case. "It was shocking."
Alice's owner, Heather Pereira of Elizabethtown, doctor-shopped at an animal clinic in Louisville, then at an animal hospital in her hometown to get Tramadol, which is used to treat moderate to moderately severe pain, Thomas said.
The incident disgusted many, and soon the staff at Elizabethtown Animal Hospital called the police when they looked at multiple cuts on Alice body as well as heard implausible stories about how the dog was injured.
It was the third time in two months that Alice needed medical attention; the latest wound required six to eight stitches to close two cuts to her right flank.
Pereira claimed Alice was cut after rubbing up against a broken part of a gutter and after playing under a car. The investigator said Pereira finally admitted she cut her dog.
Circuit Judge Kelly Mark Easton referred to Pereira's crime as a "selfish act to feed her out-of-control drug habit" and sentenced the pet owner to four years behind bars for obtaining a controlled substance by making false statements – a felony – and misdemeanor torture of a cat or dog, according to a report in 2015 by The News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown. She was released in 2016 and remains on supervised probation, Thomas said.
Scott Brinks, with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's Diversion Control Division in Washington, cautioned more than 200 Kentucky doctors – including veterinarians – during a conference in Louisville this month to watch for people who try to get drugs as animals also become victims of the nation's worst drug epidemic.
One participant of the conference asked whether it's possible to search a database to see whether a pet owner has received narcotics from other veterinarians – a possible indicator of "doctor shopping" for more drugs. Doctors routinely run a similar check when treating people.
Jill Lee, an investigator and pharmacy consultant with Kentucky's prescription drug monitoring program, said veterinarians can't run the check on the pet owners because the animal is the patient, even though the pet owner has access to the prescription.
Veterinarians across Kentucky are trained to watch for signs of abuse.
"Certainly, we know that people who have a drug problem will do almost anything to obtain them," said Doug Peterson, president of the Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association.
"Is it something the average vet sees on a monthly basis? Probably not. But we need to be concerned about it," he said.
A veterinarian for 31 years, Peterson said he relies on his experience and gut instinct and watches for behavior that can indicate deception, though he didn't want to elaborate and give drug seekers ideas.
Peterson, who treats pets in Frankfort, Kentucky, said he will try to verify the injury by looking for a limp or pressing on the area where the animal is supposed to be hurt to look for a pain response.
"If I think the pet doesn't need it or the owner is seeking drugs, I won't prescribe it," he said. "I ultimately make the call."
Future veterinarians also are being warned.
The University of Kentucky, which doesn't offer a college degree in veterinary medicine, contracts with Auburn University in Alabama to offer in-state tuition each year for 38 of the Commonwealth's future veterinarians – who are taught to watch for drug seekers.
"The potential for abuse is real," said Dan Givens, Auburn's associate dean for academic affairs in the College of Veterinary Medicine.
Along with intentionally injuring pets, some drug seekers might exaggerate or fake the animal's injury.
"Due to concerns about drug abuse, some veterinarians are not going to prescribe some controlled substances," Givens said. "They are not going to have them in their clinics."
He said sometimes animal hospital staff will give the narcotic directly to pets after surgery but send them home with a less potent pain reliever.
Veterinarians are trained to ask new clients to sign waivers allowing them to examine a pet's medical history. If the pet owner won't sign the waiver, some veterinarians will refuse treatment.