Controlled Substances Act causing trouble for large animal vets

Mar 15, 2013
by DTN

It all started in California. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) began contacting veterinarians, whose practices were at least in part mobile, to tell them they could not legally transport controlled substances off their clinic/ home premises. To do so, DEA notified these veterinarians, was in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The CSA, as it is now being interpreted by DEA, requires that veterinarians register every location in which they store, distribute or dispense controlled substances. In the past, DEA treated veterinarians as an exception to this rule, but that is no longer the case. At this point, what exists is a snarled-up, bureaucratic mess that in effect turns mobile veterinarians into criminals.

Dr. Thomas W. Graham of Davis, CA, told the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) he had been contacted by the state’s DEA and had stopped carrying pentobarbital, diazepam, xylazine and butorphanol in his vehicle because he was told it was illegal. Graham is a large animal vet, described as a “bovine practitioner.” He told AVMA in a report that he is using a handgun for euthanasia until he is assured he can carry what he needs into the field to euthanize an animal.

Graham is walking a fine line between following a law, that is murky at best, and treating his patients as humanely and professionally as possible. As word of the DEA notices spread to other states, outrage has continued to grow about the rule.

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said the agency is aware of the issue and is presently “working behind the scenes to get a resolution. This is an important issue and we’re working on it.”

However, Payne, based in Washington, D.C., admits there is not a timeline for addressing the issue, nor has DEA, to his knowledge, responded to a request from 17 members of Congress to offer technical drafting assistance as to how to best resolve the situation to the satisfaction of both sides.

Asked for guidance as to how veterinarians should handle their day-to-day responsibilities until the issue is resolved, Payne said, “We don’t have the manpower or resources or desire to be hiding in the bushes monitoring what every vet is doing. That’s not our role.

There are quirks in the law, disagreements, issues that came up that weren’t foreseen when these regulations were put into place.

We’re doing what we can to work through those so everybody has some clarity.”

AVMA has been trying to resolve this issue since it first broke last year. Dr. Ashley Shelton Morgan, assistant director of the AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division, said they are working with several congressional offices to get legislation in place to fix the problem. Two U.S. representatives are veterinarians, and are well aware of the issue with the CSA: Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-OR, and Rep. Ted Yoho, R-FL.

Seventeen members of Congress wrote to DEA regarding the CSA and its impact on veterinarians back in October 2012. In that letter, they requested DEA provide “technical assistance” as to how to solve the problem.

“There has been no formal, written response from the DEA after the congressional letter was sent to them, despite Rep. Schrader reaching out,” said AV- MA’s Morgan.

Morgan added AVMA is not aware of any veterinarians outside of California who have received the DEA notifications. But she added that when AVMA asked for clarification, they were told that it is not legal for veterinarians to use controlled substances outside of their registered locations, which would be the registrant’s principal place of business.

“For now, we are telling veterinarians they should follow the DEA’s rules and applicable state rules to the very best of their ability. That includes utilizing appropriate security measures within the paradigm of being mobile, while also recognizing their responsibility per the veterinarian’s oath,” said Morgan.

Schrader, a leader on the issue, is angry that DEA has not used what he calls “commonsense” in their interpretation of the CSA.

“Not a single member of Congress intended the CSA to be used as a means of restricting the practice of mobile vets,” he said. “The DEA has no clue what it means to drive the countryside providing veterinary care and protecting our food supply.”

He added that DEA’s interpretation of the CSA gives him pause as to how much leeway agencies like this should have. He says legislation is being drafted to correct the problem and within a month or so, that legislation should be introduced. He added he has brought the matter to the attention of the secretary of agriculture. He said it is a bi-partisan issue that he hopes will motivate people to do the right thing. — Victoria G. Myers, DTN