NEWARK – Opening a new front in New Jersey’s fight against opioid addiction, Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced stricter guidelines for veterinary prescriptions to help prevent individuals from using pets to obtain pain medications to feed their own drug habits.
The initiative comes in response to reports that a growing number of addicts nationwide are abusing medications meant for their pets, including highly-addictive opioid painkillers like tramadol and oxycodone, which are commonly prescribed to humans and animals alike.
The new guidelines, created by the professional boards that oversee veterinarians and pharmacists, recommend including owner information as well as pet names on prescriptions to better track the sales on the New Jersey Prescription Monitoring Program (“NJPMP.”)
“More and more people are taking advantage of a gap in our law that makes it easier to obtain opioids and other controlled dangerous substances from a veterinarian than from their own physicians,” said Attorney General Porrino. “We’re asking veterinarians and pharmacists to help us close that gap and stop addictive pain medications from flowing through veterinarians onto the streets.”
The NJPMP is a centralized data sharing system for prescribers and pharmacists in New Jersey and partner states to track prescription sales of narcotic painkillers and other drugs that often lead to deadly heroin addictions. New Jersey law requires prescribers to review a patient’s prescription history prior to dispensing certain highly-addictive controlled dangerous substances (“CDS”), including opioid pain relievers.
Veterinarians are exempt from this requirement.
And while veterinarians typically don’t dispense the types of pain medications most often blamed for starting a generation of heroin users down the path to addiction -such as fentanyl and OxyContin – they do prescribe other drugs commonly abused by people suffering from opioid addictions. Among these drugs are Xanax and Valium, tranquilizers commonly prescribed to humans and also used to treat separation anxiety and thunderstorm phobias in dogs; hydrocodone, a potent opioid used to relieve pain and suppress coughs in pets and people; and tramadol, a powerful painkiller often prescribed for humans and animals with arthritis or other debilitating ailments.
“There appears to be a rising trend in people using their pets, sometimes even deliberately injuring their pets, to obtain these restricted pain medications for themselves,” said Sharon Joyce, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “The new standards make it easier to track CDS prescribed for animals to better identify behaviors that indicate someone is seeking the drugs for any purpose other than the treatment of a pet’s existing medical condition.”
The new standards are the result of a collaborative effort among the NJPMP, the New Jersey Board of Pharmacy, and the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to create uniformity in the reporting of prescription information for animals. By creating stricter standards for the way pet prescriptions are written, filled, and entered into the NJPMP, the database will become a more valuable tool for veterinarians and other prescribers to identify signs of possible medical diversion by pet owners.
This month, the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has sent letters to its 2,725 members, recommending that they record the following information on each prescription provided to owners to treat their animals:
The Board of Pharmacy previously sent letters to its16, 884 members recommending that they place the same information on prescription labels and record it in the NJPMP.
By including owner information on pet prescriptions, physicians doing look-ups on the NJPMP can see what kind of medications patients have been obtaining in their pet’s name as well as their own.
The letters also encourage veterinarians and pharmacists to access the NJPMP’s Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”) to report individuals they suspect may be seeking CDS for misuse, abuse, or diversion.
The Suspicious Activity Report (“SAR”) portal, available to health practitioners and members of the public on the NJPMP website, permits users to quickly alert authorities about when they believe doctors are overprescribing controlled medications; individuals or pharmacists are filling forged or stolen prescriptions, or patients are “doctor shopping” to obtain multiple prescriptions. Information contained in the reports will be investigated for possible administrative or criminal enforcement action.
Unveiled in August, the SAR portal is the latest enhancement to the NJPMP’s data sharing system.
In July, the Division expanded the NJPMP’s capabilities to allow users to review two years’ worth of prescription records, instead of just one. In addition, the system now automatically converts all opioid medicines to a standard “morphine milligram equivalent” dose to help avoid over-prescribing or patient overdose.
Established in 2011, the NJPMP now contains more than 77 million prescriptions written or filled in New Jersey. Each record in the database contains the names and addresses of the patient, doctor, and pharmacy; drug dispensing date; type, days’ supply, and quantity of medication; and method of payment.
Physicians, dentists, podiatrists, optometrists, advance practice nurses, and certified nurse midwives who are authorized by the State of New Jersey to prescribe or dispense CDS are required to check the NJPMP the first time they prescribe a Schedule II CDS to a new or current patient for acute or chronic pain, and on a quarterly basis (every three months) during the period of time a current patient continues to receive a prescription for a Schedule II CDS for acute or chronic pain.
Pharmacies that dispense Schedule II-V CDS and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in New Jersey, or into New Jersey, are required to submit data on all transactions for such drugs to the NJPMP on a daily basis.
Fourteen states – Vermont, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina, and Minnesota – share data with the NJPMP.
The NJPMP is also a valuable tool for law enforcement and regulatory investigations into the unlawful diversion of prescription narcotics. The database has been used to identify and successfully prosecute healthcare professionals associated with "pill mills" that dispense narcotics without a legitimate medical purpose.
For more information, visit the Division’s NJPMP website at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov/pmp.
For information on New Jersey’s new opioid prescribing regulations, or to find guidance on safer pain medication prescribing practices, visit the Division’s Prescribing for Pain website at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov/prescribing-for-pain.
Patients who believe that a licensed health care professional is prescribing CDS inappropriately can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504- 6200.
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