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Hurting for drugs: Vets watch for suspicious injuries as humans may harm pets to get their meds

Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-01 12:06:05-05

First we broke the news that dealers were lacing drug doses for human with the elephant drug carfentanil; now we've learned another drug intended for animals is making its way to addicts.

This time, the users are getting their hands on drugs intended for dogs and it has local vets on alert.

Tracking tramadol

Two-year-old Boss, is bouncing back from surgery.

"He's one of the toughest dogs I've ever met," said Erin McGrew, the Brussels Griffin's owner.

Boss recently had bladder stones removed, and to ease the pain, his doctor prescribed a morphine-type drug called tramadol.

"Tramadol is kind of an opioid like medication that we use in dogs and cats, sometimes it's for chronic pain, cancer pain, sometimes post operatively,” said Dr. Jeremy Welsh, veterinarian at Shaker Heights Animal Hospital.

It’s a helpful drug for pets, but what some owners are doing with it is dangerous.

“We know they fall into the wrong hands sometimes, or people are using them inappropriately, and not for their dogs,” said Welsh.

Doctors told me, it's likely happening here in Cleveland.

"It is out there and we do get suspicious," said Welsh.

Fighting back

So how do doctors combat this scourge? Local vets explained they are now on the lookout for pets with suspicious injuries; in part, because owners are purposely hurting their animals, just to get ahold of that drug.

“If people are calling in for refills more often than we think they should be, or just general abuse signs," said Welsh.

The drug actually only has a 50 percent chance of even getting someone the high they'd want, but according to addiction experts I spoke with, if someone is taking this drug, that addict has likely hit rock bottom.

“When somebody gets to that point, they're just chasing the next high, and it doesn't really matter what it is; they just want to get to that next place they're searching for," said Nicole Reed, Program Administrator, at the Edna House, an addiction recovery home for women.

To help prevent both animal and drug abuse, veterinarian Jeremy Welsh says, his hospital is taking extra precautions. Like keeping tramadol locked in a safe.

"It's a very big deal, anytime you're dealing with controlled substances...we're all on board," he said.

Police on alert

During our investigation, we found no reports from local departments that they've arrested accused tramadol users, but there have been suspicions.

“That's where the tracking system really comes in handy, knowing who's getting what and when,"

And there is precedent, in Kentucky, 23-year-old Heather Pereira was charged with torturing her dog multiple times, just to get that drug, which is a felony.

She's been sentenced to four years in prison.

“The addict mind is so hard to understand when they're in that state of I need to get the next one, at any cost," said Reed.