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Maine’s New Opioid Rules Confusing to Veterinarians

The rules, veterinarians say range from being unethical to not applicable to them.



Chapter 488, Maine’s new law, which went into effect Jan. 1 and sets limits on opioid prescriptions, has left some veterinarians there scratching their heads.

The new state law puts the onus on veterinarians, doctors and pharmacies to police opioid prescriptions to curb potential abuse.

Amanda Bisol, VMD, legislative chair for the Maine Veterinary Medical Association and co-owner of Animal Medical Clinic in Skowhegan, Maine, said the new law brought little clarity to the role veterinarians should play in checking opioid abuse in the state.

“There aren’t many changes I could see,” Dr. Bisol said. 

The law strictly limits opioid prescriptions for chronic pain, except for cancer patients, people in hospice, those receiving palliative care or addicts undergoing addiction treatment.

The law requires doctors and veterinarians to check Maine’s prescription monitoring database to ferret out patients whose prescriptions exceed the new state-mandated prescription limits prior to writing them a new prescription.

Veterinarians were added to the language of the law in response to reports (that some feel are overblown) of people using pain medications like tramadol prescribed for their pets for their own use.   

Veterinarians interviewed by the Sun Journal took umbrage with several aspects of the new law and claimed:

  • It is rare for people to take their pets’ pain meds.
  • Most pet prescriptions are written for amounts that would prove ineffective for people.
  • Some say having to check someone’s prescription information ahead of prescribing for their pet is unethical.
  • Others say they aren’t trained to interpret someone’s medical history because their training is in animal medicine.
  • There’s also the problem of whose medical records should be searched when a pet has multiple caretakers.
  • Many see it as just making their job more difficult.
  • The state’s database also doesn’t allow veterinarians to enter prescriptions they write into it, so someone could be making the rounds to other vets without it showing up in the database.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been working to write new rules in support of the new law but most do little or nothing to address veterinarians’ concerns, notes the Sun Journal piece.

One thing that has popped up in the new rules is that veterinarians now have a 24-hour window in which to check someone’s prescription history after writing a prescription for their pet.

Bisol plans to meet with DHHS principals do further discuss the rules and how they can be massaged or new ones written to assuage the concerns of Maine’s veterinarians when it comes to Chapter 488.

“My goal is to meet with them … and go over some of the concerns and brainstorm,” Bisol told the Sun Journal.

Originally published in the May 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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