Of all the consequences of the nation’s opioid epidemic — which last year killed 33,091 people, or one overdose death every 15 minutes — the strangest may be how it has increased the abuse of dogs.
Addicts discovered that the painkiller tramadol, prescribed by veterinarians across the country for pets with arthritis or other debilitating ailments, is the same drug prescribed to human cancer patients to dull their pain.
And compared to the more widely-abused opioid oxycontin, which can cost up to $10 for a 10 milligram pill, tramadol is dirt cheap. It wholesales for less than $25 for a 1,000-pill bottle.
Its inexpensive price has already made it a scourge throughout the third world — and now the problem is moving into developed countries.
In Northern Ireland on Wednesday, one coroner said more teens there now die from tramadol than from morphine or heroin.
Here in the US, opioid abusers are finding veterinarians can be easily fooled into prescribing the drug — even if it means, at times, purposely maiming or abusing their dog to pull off their ruse.
“They’ve gotten very sophisticated in how they obtain drugs and go about their activities,” said Jim Arnold, the chief of policy and liaison for the diversion control division at the Drug Enforcement Administration.