Pet Surgery Medicine Shortage Due to Opioid Crisis September 6th, 2019 The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake
Blog & News Pet Surgery Medicine Shortage Due to Opioid Crisis

Pet Surgery Medicine Shortage Due to Opioid Crisis

Small dog with a cone around his neck after receiving surgery

We remain embroiled in the opioid epidemic. Drug overdose deaths, and in particular those relating to the use of opioids, continue to rise in the United States. Overdose-related deaths are up among men and women, and the opioid epidemic affects people of all races and ages. Two out of three drug overdose deaths in the United States involve an opioid, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With the wave of deaths related to opioids come other consequences. For example, veterinarians are feeling the effects of the opioid epidemic. According to a recent report from Arizona, some local veterinary clinics are having difficulties getting the drugs they need for the treatment of animals following surgery.  

According to veterinarians, they generally use opioid medications for pets every day including before and after surgery. Recently, as a result of legislation that attempts to crack down on the opioid epidemic, veterinarians are facing shortages. They don’t have access to the medications they typically use daily. Along with simply not having access to needed pet medications, veterinarians are also having to buy less pure forms of pain medications from compounding pharmacies. These are more expensive, and the costs are ultimately passed on to pet owners.

Veterinarians are also required to report anyone they believe is using an opioid prescription for their dog or cat for themselves. Vets have to keep opioids like morphine and hydrocodone in a lockbox at all times, with security cameras monitoring.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has decreased production of opioids by around 25% in recent years, according to the National Survey of Veterinarians, conducted by Wedgewood Pharmacy. Cuts are a result of the attempts to reduce diversion of opioid drugs from veterinary purposes to human misuse. The same survey showed the impact of reduced opioid supplies for veterinarians can include pain, suffering and animal deaths.

Does Pet Opioid Use Pose Misuse Risk in Humans?

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and the School of Veterinary Medicine recently conducted research looking at the relationship between pet opioid prescriptions and human opioid misuse. The research was the first of its kind to take an in-depth look at opioid prescriptions in veterinary practices. Results of the research do show the potential that since opioid prescription in veterinary medicine isn’t as regulated as human medical prescribing, it could relate to the opioid epidemic.

The study results showed veterinary opioid prescriptions went up 41% from January 2007 through December 2017. However, the annual number of vet visits went up only around 13%. Researchers wrote their findings could show that even when the use of opioids is well-intended on the part of the veterinarian, it could increase the chance of leftover pills being misused by humans.

Hospital Opioid Shortages

Veterinarian medical facilities aren’t the only ones feeling the squeeze in terms of opioid shortages. Many hospitals and clinics are finding they are facing a shortage of pain medications as well. It’s difficult for health care providers because while pain medications are an essential part of treating humans and animals, it does appear that having more opioids in circulation can be part of the opioid epidemic.

Hospice providers in states like Florida and Maryland have reported running out of opioids. They are seeing problems replenishing their supplies, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. Representatives from the Cleveland Clinic have said their system is monitoring inventory and using alternatives whenever possible.

For anyone struggling with opioid misuse, or any substance misuse issue, please contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. Our drug and alcohol treatment center offers evidence-based personalized care. Reach out today.


Ross, Casey. “Hospitals are confronting a new opioids crisis: an alarming shortage of pain meds.” STAT News, March 15, 2018. Accessed August 21, 2019.

Whitney, Briana. “Opioid crisis causing shortage of medicine needed for pet surgery.” AZ Family, July 9, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019.

Wedgewood Pharmacy. “Impact of Opioid Shortages on Veterinary Medicine.” Summary of a National Survey of Veterinarians, September 2018. Accessed August 21, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Overview of the Drug Overdose Epidemic: Behind the Numbers.” Accessed August 21, 2019.

Penn Medicine News. “Does Opioid Use In Pets Create Higher Risk for Abuse In Animals.” January 11, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019.

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