Mobile veterinarians violating Controlled Substance Act; amendment needed
Veterinarians transporting controlled substances off their clinic premises may very well be in violation of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and in some states, the legalities have been heating up.
Most mobile veterinarians have been working under the assumption that the CSA is not enforced the same in the vet world, and that a locked box is sufficient to transport substances. But in California, the topic has come under scrutiny, with some veterinarians, particularly those listing home addresses as their principal place of business, worried about not only their license, but also the legal issues.
The law requires practitioners to register every location where they store, distribute or dispense controlled substances, which would include every ranch they visit. Previously, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) seemed to treat veterinarians as an exception to the law, but lately, veterinarians have been receiving phone calls, and believe they may be leaning toward enforcement. “It’s our charge and our mandate to enforce the Controlled Substance Act. Those in violation could receive scrutiny,” Rusty Payne, a spokesman for DEA told Veterinary News.
Earlier this month, U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-OR, and Ted Yoho, R-FL, introduced legislation that corrects the CSA restriction.
The bill, the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1528), will make it legal for veterinarians to transport and dispense medications for pain management, anesthesia and euthanasia that they need to properly care for animal patients in various settings.
“As Congressmen Schrader and Yoho can attest, being a veterinarian does not start and stop within the walls of the veterinary clinic. Animals come in all shapes and sizes, and live and roam in a variety of settings,” said Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of The American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Governmental Relations Division. “To provide complete care for their animal patients, veterinarians must have the ability to transport the medications they need beyond their brickand-mortar clinics. On behalf of the U.S. veterinary profession, we are pleased to see this legislation introduced and we encourage
Congress to pass it quickly for the health and welfare of the nation’s animals, to safeguard public safety, and to protect the nation’s food supply.”
“As my fellow veterinarians know all too well, in the practice of veterinary medicine we are often required to provide mobile or ambulatory services in the field to treat our animal patients in a wide variety of settings,” Schrader said. “The Drug Enforcement Administration’s confusing interpretation of existing law makes little sense, is completely unreasonable, and hinders the ability of mobile and ambulatory veterinarians to properly care for their clients. We’ve made good faith attempts to work with the DEA to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and find a sensible solution, but our overtures have fallen on deaf ears. Therefore, we’re moving forward with what any reasonable person would interpret as a commonsense legislative solution to this bureaucratic nonsense.”
“Veterinarians protect public health and keep our food supply the best and safest in the world. This is another example of a well-intentioned regulation getting in the way of highly trained professionals trying to do their jobs efficiently,” said Yoho. “Veterinarians like us must be able to travel to treat animals, and in emergency cases, any veterinarian should be able to get to the animal—and the community—in need. The government should facilitate this important work and not allow it to be debilitated with bureaucracy.”
DEA, which enforces the CSA, states that it is illegal for registrants to transport controlled substances—such as those used by veterinarians for pain management, anesthesia or euthanasia— outside of their registered locations, which oftentimes for veterinarians are their homes or veterinary clinics. In particular, DEA takes a narrow interpretation of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states: “A separate registration is required for each principal place of business or professional practice at one general physical location where controlled substances are manufactured, distributed, imported, exported or dispensed by a person.”
The DEA’s interpretation of the law is problematic for veterinarians who need to be able to treat many species of animals in a variety of settings. This is particularly important for veterinarians:
• In rural areas where it is often not feasible, practical or possible for owners to bring large animals or livestock into veterinary clinics or hospitals;
• During emergency response situations where injured animals must be cared for onsite;
• When assisting communities with removing, rescuing or translocating dangerous wildlife and other wild animals;
• Who provide house calls for their animal patients or operate mobile veterinary clinics;
• Who are required to conduct field research and disease control efforts outside of their principal places of business.
AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division has been actively engaged in meetings with DEA, Capitol Hill staff and other key stakeholders to develop legislation to fix the CSA on behalf of its members, especially in light of recent notifications by DEA to veterinarians in California and Washington state that they are in violation of the law.
Last October, Schrader sent a bipartisan congressional letter, signed by 16 members of Congress, to DEA asking for technical assistance on how best to resolve the situation. DEA maintained that a statutory change would be necessary in order for veterinarians to legally transport and use controlled substances outside of their registered locations.
By passing the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, Congress will ensure that animals do not endure pain and suffering unnecessarily because their veterinarians are not allowed to bring the tools they need to do their jobs.
More than 110 veterinary medical organizations and associations in the U.S. have signed a statement of support for this important legislation. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor