OKLAHOMA CITY — For most of us, pets are our best friends, our loyal companions and our brave guardians.
But in some new cases across the country, pets are reportedly being used to help addicts score drugs. Dr. Chris Rispoli runs Gentle Care Animal Hospital in Edmond and says he's well aware of these horror stories.
"Addicts don’t look at it that way," Dr. Rispoli said. "They’re only worried about getting it for themselves. That’s part of the sickness."
While the cases are admittedly rare, they do happen. In 2014, a 23-year-old Kentucky woman confessed to cutting her dog with a razor blade to get its pain medicine. Oregon authorities, in 2016, seized over 100,000 Tramadol pills and arrested four people at a dog breeding operation where the animals were reportedly living in horrible conditions.
Tramadol appears to be the narcotic of choice when it comes to these cases. While Dr. Rispoli hasn't personally seen the abuse cases, he has seen the drive to get drugs hit his office.
"I had some stolen from my clinic by a staff member I had to let go," said Dr. Rispoli.
While going to the lengths of injuring an animal to get a fix may seem like a stretch, it's no surprise to addiction specialists, who say desperation can be an extreme motivator.
"I’ve seen people be denied narcotic medicines through the emergency room and go out, open up the trunk of the car and put their arm in the trunk of the car and slam it down on themselves," said Dr. John Grizzle of Alliance Health in Oklahoma City. "Then go to another emergency room. I think more than anything what they’re trying to do is stay off the radar that they’re getting their pain medicine."
Now that vets are aware of the problem, they're taking steps to make sure this doesn't continue to happen. Dr. Rispoli says that starts with getting a good feel for the pet owner.
"If somebody comes in and says ‘Oh I want Tramadol, Tramadol works good’ and they’re a new client, that’s the light that goes off in your head at that moment. You’re like okay I see what’s happening," said Dr. Rispoli.
Dr. Rispoli says he always tries to go for non-narcotic drugs first. But there are also legal safeguards in place for when he has to prescribe painkillers.
"When I write a script to a client for a controlled drug, if I haven’t written it in 160 days or it’s a brand new script, I have legally 5 minutes to get on to the computer, get on to the PMP site and record it," said Dr. Rispoli.
Federal agencies can then use that information to make sure pet owners aren't drug shopping.
Addiction experts, however, say it's really up to the addict to change their ways. And until then, they'll most likely continue coming up with schemes like these to get drugs.
"Until there’s a catastrophe, an accident, an injury, a job loss, a divorce, somebody that’s getting ready to go to jail for their 3rd DUI, until those things start happening, people just keep on falling back into the same rut," said Dr. Grizzle.
Dr. Grizzle also says the understanding of how to treat addiction has grown rapidly since the opioid crisis came to light. And the number of doctors treating patients is also on the rise.
"What you want to do is try to get somebody down to the lowest amount of the medicine you have for treatment possible," said Dr. Grizzle. "Where they’re more active, more alert, they’re able to do more things, they’re not falling asleep talking to people. They’re pretty much getting their life back into a routine where they can function and work."
If you or anyone you know is seeking help with addiction, contact Dr. John Grizzle's office here.