Senate Passes Veterinary Drug Amendment
Federal legislation that would allow veterinarians to transport controlled drugs to animal patients on farms and at clients’ homes cleared one hurdle Wednesday when the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act.
The bill faces an uncertain fate in the House, but the American Veterinary Medical Association is optimistic.
"With nearly 150 cosponsors in the U.S. House and the nation’s only two elected veterinarians serving in Congress championing the bill, we believe the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act has a good chance of moving forward in the House of Representatives,” said Mark Lutschaunig, AVMA’s governmental relations director.
Equine veterinarians are among the practitioners caught up in a federal law that prohibits the transportation of controlled drugs.
The amendment to the Controlled Substances Act would close a loophole that forbids practitioners from transporting and dispensing certain drugs beyond their registered office or home. The prohibition technically criminalizes the normal activities of rural, mobile and ambulatory veterinarians who treat patients away from a clinic.
The Controlled Substances Act was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970 in response to what proponents saw as the escalating abuse of narcotics by Americans. It wasn’t until November 2009 that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration notified veterinarians that the agency’s interpretation of the law meant they couldn’t transport drugs to their patients.
Veterinarians found breaking the law have been issued warning letters. No one has been charged, said Victoria Broehm, communications manager with AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C.
Nevertheless, AVMA lobbied lawmakers to change the Controlled Substances Act.
"The Senate’s action proves that our nation’s leaders are listening to the veterinary profession and are diligently working to ensure that animals in all settings continue to receive the best quality care,” said AVMA President Clark Fobian, DVM. "To be a veterinarian, you must be willing to go to your patients when they cannot come to you, and this means being able to bring all of the vital medications you need in your medical bag.
"We are pleased that the Senate has taken action to fix a loophole in federal regulation, which has concerned veterinarians over the past few years, and urge the U.S. House to swiftly follow suit,” he added.
The Senate version of the amendment (S. 1171) was sponsored by Kansas Republican Jerry Moran and Maine independent Angus King.
"Working in a rural state like Maine often requires veterinarians to travel long distances in order to provide care to animals on farms, in homes and at shelters,” King said. "This bill will grant properly licensed veterinarians the right to carry and administer controlled substances, including important medications, allowing them to do their jobs.”
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which works with shelters and rescue groups nationwide, applauded the Senate.
"Mobile veterinarians perform much of their work in irregular and unpredictable locations,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. "Mobile spay/neuter and vaccination clinics, disaster responses, and animal cruelty investigations necessitate travel to remote and underserved communities.”
The House version of the amendment (HR 1528) is sponsored by the two seated veterinarians: Reps. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon, and Florida Republican Ted Yoho.
"As a large animal veterinarian, I can tell you that the practice of veterinary medicine doesn't always take place in an office,” Yoho said. "This legislation allows the flexibility needed for veterinarians to care for their patients wherever the call may be. I look forward to working with Representative Schrader on moving this commonsense legislation with the same broad support in the House of Representatives."
How the bill will fare in the House is unknown. One possibility, Broehm said, is that the amendment may be added to the farm bill, a massive piece of legislation that funds agricultural and food programs.
"If that effort is not fruitful, then we will pursue passage through other means,” Broehm said. "Given that the bill already has nearly 150 cosponsors, it is quite possible that with continued support in the House, the bill could be passed by unanimous consent as it did in the Senate.”
The Senate bill was approved nearly seven months after its introduction.
"We’d like to see the House take up HR 1528 this year,” Broehm said.