02/15/2013 4:39PM

Veterinarians challenge DEA’s drug transport restrictions


Veterinarians who drive to treat animals at farms and other sites are violating federal law if they carry the controlled substances they often need for their work.

That’s the message California veterinarians started getting last spring, when they received Drug Enforcement Agency notification that carrying controlled substances away from their site of registration—typically, a vet clinic or a mobile veterinarian’s home base—violates the Controlled Substances Act, even if the veterinarian maintains DEA record-keeping requirements and keeps the drugs in a locked box while at a client’s site.

Now, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners are among groups backing an exemption for veterinarians in light of the DEA’s more aggressive stance toward mobile veterinary use of controlled drugs.

The AVMA represents more than 82,500 members, and the AAEP represents more than 10,000 veterinarians and veterinary students worldwide, including about 6,500 licensed members in the U.S.

“The American Association of Equine Practitioners is concerned about changes in the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act and the impact on the practice of veterinary medicine,” said Keith Kleine, the AAEP’s director of industry relations.

“The majority of equine veterinarians in the United States travel to their patients to provide health care. Without a veterinarian’s ability to transport controlled substances, horses may be subjected to significant delays in treatment. Of particular concern would be an emergency situation in which euthanasia might be necessary.”

The DEA began notifying California veterinarians last April that, under the act, it’s illegal to take controlled substances outside of a registered location. The act requires separate registration “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.”

Dr. Ashley Morgan, the AVMA’s assistant director for governmental relations, said that even veterinarians who registered every client’s facility might not be in the clear.

“Technically, that’s not where the drugs are sent and kept under lock and key,” Morgan said. “If the DEA shows up at whichever farm, there’s not a lockbox or safe there with the drugs and record-keeping.”

Morgan said the group is not aware of any veterinarians outside of California who have received the DEA notifications. But equine practitioners in Kentucky are among those expressing concern about the DEA’s interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act.

“We believe that controlled substances need to be registered at a point of receipt in a particular location, like a business address, but there is also a need for the portability of controlled drugs with practitioners who are in an ambulatory setting,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, the president of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington and a field veterinarian.

Brown noted that veterinarians commonly use a host of controlled drugs in equine care, including the sedative butorphanol, the general anesthetic ketamine, and the drugs used in euthanasia solutions.

“It becomes a welfare issue then,” Brown said. “We certainly need to be able to carry out those procedures in situations in order to stop pain and suffering. And in a nursery setting like I practice in, diazepam, or injectable Valium, is what we use to control seizures in neonates that are born with maladjustment syndrome.”

In a letter last spring to John Partridge, head of the DEA’s liaison and policy section, the AVMA urged the federal agency to “exercise enforcement discretion when investigating ambulatory veterinary practitioners who are licensed by the state to practice veterinary medicine and hold a valid DEA registration for their principal place of business.”

“We’re aware of the issue, and we’re working on trying to get it resolved with those who can make that happen,” said DEA spokesman Rusty Payne. “Our job is to enforce the Controlled Substances Act, and we have to do that, by law. When someone is not in compliance, we have to let them know. The potential fix could happen legislatively.”

The AVMA’s Morgan said a variety of veterinary, horse, and animal groups are working to resolve the matter. Among their allies are Congressmen Kurt Schrader of Oregon, also a veterinarian; Frank Lucas of Oklahoma; and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who jointly sent a letter to the DEA in October seeking technical drafting assistance for legislation that could allow mobile veterinarians to continue working without running afoul of the Controlled Substances Act.

“We’re all trying to work together with congressional staffers to try to move this forward as quickly and as non-controversially as possible,” said Morgan. “We will introduce a piece of legislation this Congress, and we hope within the coming months.

“Congressman Schrader has expressed interest in that, and the AVMA is moving forward with getting that legislation drafted and introduced.”