- Associated Press - Monday, January 23, 2017

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - After a black Labrador retriever named Deeoge fell twice, his owners told his veterinarian that offering the dog Vicodin had seemed to ease his pain.

So Dr. Randall Snyder started prescribing the pain reliever along with other medications, according to a settlement between Snyder and the state’s veterinary board over alleged misconduct. Snyder kept up the dosage at the owner’s request, often without re-examining the dog, and later prescribed narcotics to the owner’s other black lab, Precious. The owners ended up with thousands of tablets beyond what the dogs needed.

Prosecutors say this type of over-prescribing can help fuel New Hampshire’s ongoing opioid crisis. They’d like to see veterinarians included in a law aimed at preventing patients from “doctor shopping” to fuel their addictions. The law requires medical professionals to check the state’s prescription drug monitoring database before prescribing opioids, to see if the patient has a recent history of receiving narcotics elsewhere.

Veterinarians are temporarily exempt, and lawmakers will take testimony Tuesday on a bill to make the exemption permanent.

Supporters of the bill say requiring vets to query information about animals’ owners could violate privacy protections.

“What right does a veterinarian have to look up someone who is not their patient?” said Republican Rep. Carol McGuire, the bill’s sponsor.

Thirty-three other states exempt veterinarians from using their monitoring programs, said Dr. Jane Barlow Roy, past president of the New Hampshire Veterinary Medical Association. Barlow said veterinarians want to be part of the solution in halting the state’s opioid crisis, but that making them adhere to the same standards as doctors who treat humans doesn’t make sense.

“When you’re telling me to query my patient, my patient is a dog,” Barlow Roy said. “There are just inherent things that are different about dogs and cats that don’t fit into the prescription drug monitoring program.”

Barlow Roy said many veterinarians do not prescribe opioids that go home with the animals and their owners, instead using opioids primarily when the animal is hospitalized.

Supporters of the requirement, including the attorney general’s office, argue that exempting veterinarians from checking the system could make them a target for people who go to multiple doctors in search of prescriptions.

“The concern is that they might become the targets of individuals who are inappropriately seeking controlled substances,” Assistant Attorney General Matt Mavrogeorge said.

The settlement between Snyder and the veterinary board, signed in 2015, never gives the dog owners’ names or makes clear if they were using the opioids themselves or selling them. But it does say Snyder’s prescribing practices violated the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Code of Ethics.

“Despite these consistently early refills, (Snyder) did not recognize the potential for either diversion or significant overdosing by the owners,” the settlement reads.

Snyder was reprimanded, asked to pay a fine and his ability to prescribe controlled substances was limited, according to the settlement.

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