Painkillers For Pets + People = Dangerous Mix

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A few years back, something really strange happened to Eli. Maybe something stung him. Or maybe he hurt his back somehow. Since I didn’t see what happened to cause him so much pain, I guess I’ll never know. But it wasn’t good.

So I took him to the veterinarian — and she couldn’t figure out what happened, either. All she could say for sure was that his back was extremely tender and he was in a lot of discomfort. So she gave him something for the pain and sent him home.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

I don’t know what it was. But it drove him crazy. Literally. He hid under the bed for days, only coming out to use his litter box. Of course I stopped giving him the medicine as soon as I figured out it was causing the odd behavior. Even so, it took poor old Eli a few day to recover.

When I told the vet what happened, she confirmed that cats and dogs sometimes have adverse reaction to strong painkillers.

So imagine my shock — and horror — when I came across a recent article about the potential misuse of these drugs by people.

Establishing a link between the prescription of pet painkillers and the American opioid crisis

The article, which appeared on back in January details the findings of a new study published in JAMA NETWORK OPEN earlier this year.

Based on research conducted during an 11-year period, the study addresses the following question: “What kind of opioids and how many are prescribed by veterinarians?”

To answer it, researchers documented the number of opioid tablets and/or patches dispensed or prescribed by veterinarians at a “multispecialty academic veterinary teaching hospital” in Philadelphia  between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2017 (all dates inclusive).  They found that 134 veterinarians practicing there during the time in question prescribed:

  • 1 05,1 836 Tramadol tablets
  • 97 547 Hydrocodone tablets
  • 38 939 Codeine tablets
  • 3153 Fentanyl patches

The research also determined that the veterinarians prescribed most of these medications  for dogs (73 percent); followed by cats (22.5 percent); and other species including rabbits, birds, and reptiles (4.5%)

Finally, the research revealed that while the number of animal hospital visits increased by 12.8 percent over the 11-year period, the number of opioid-based medications increased by 41.2 percent.

With a lack of available data for the entire 11-year period, researchers could not make an accurate comparison between the number of new prescriptions and refills. However, a separate assessment of 2017 prescriptions revealed that approximately 10 percent were refills.

Nap time! Hurricane Harvey kittens take a break at the 30th annual Puttin’ on the Dog festival. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

So what?

In their assessment of these findings, the researchers acknowledge that veterinarians have historically received less education about opioid misuse than medical doctors and dentists. The researchers also acknowledge that increased awareness among physicians and dentists has prompted people who misuse opioids to get opioid-based painkillers elsewhere.

Specifically, the assessment cites the FDA Commissioner’s concerns that, “the recent increased scrutiny of medical and dental opioid prescribing may have redirected some individuals to obtain opioids from veterinarians.”

As a result, the researchers conclude that veterinarians should be subjected to the same rules and regulations as their peers in medicine and dentistry. They also say that veterinarians should receive similar educational outreach.

As things now stand

Rules and regulations

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association there are regulations that mandate reporting when veterinarians dispense controlled substances — including opioids — to patients on the books in 15 states and the District Columbia. These are:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Michigan
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Vermont
  • Washington state
  • West Virginia

However, it is important to note that 34 states exempt veterinarians from Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

Educational outreach

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also provided a comprehensive list of tips for veterinarians that stock and prescribe opioid-based medications for animals.

Among other things, it includes advice about how to spot clients and staff that may be “diverting” and misusing these medications.

Some warning signs that a client is potentially abusing opioids may include:

  • Suspect injuries in a new patient
  • Asking for specific medications by name
  • Asking for refills for lost or stolen medications
  • Pet owner is insistent in their request

Some warning signs that veterinary staff may be abusing opioids include:

  • Mood swings, anxiety, or depression
  • Mental confusion and an inability to concentrate
  • Making frequent mistakes at work
  • Not showing up for work

The bottom line

“Combating opioid addiction and addressing misuse of pain medication continues to be one of FDA’s highest priorities,” the agency says. “Veterinarians as medical professionals have an opportunity to partner with FDA and others to take on this deadly epidemic, and the agency encourages them to continue to work with their clients and both local and national organizations to join in the fight.”

Springtime safety tips for pet owners

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Yay! It’s sunny. It’s 70 degrees. It won’t get dark here until 7:29 p.m. And I’m… stuck inside, working. Actually it’s taken me the better part of an hour to come up with an idea for today’s post.

So I decided to go with the obvious. Warm weather and springtime safety tips for pet owners.

Exercise some common sense

When it comes to warm weather, pets and people aren’t all that different. We all want to be outside, having fun. And we can all get a bit carried away.

Eli, the In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot.
In Brief Legal Writing Services mascot Eli catching up on the latest news. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

But while we are responsible  — and know there are consequences for — rash decisions, our pets don’t. So it’s up to us to look out for them.  It’s our responsibility to learn the signs that our furry friends are in physical discomfort or distress. Some of the symptoms are obvious, but because dogs and cats are also adept at hiding weaknesses, some aren’t so obvious. Don’t leave anything to chance… talk to your vet about what to look out for.

While you’re at it, have a frank discussion with the vet or another expert about your pet’s outdoor activities. If you’re going to let your cat romp around the neighborhood or leave your dog outside on its own for prolonged periods (something I personally recommend against) learn how to make the environment as safe and comfortable as possible. Find out:

  • How to create an “escape proof” yard.
  • What type of shelter to buy or build.
  • How to mitigate any hazards posed by other animals.
  • How to ensure your pet has access to food and water.
  • How to make sure your pet can be readily identified if it goes missing.

Taking these precautions is largely a matter of common sense. On the other hand, failing to take them could cause a lot of trouble. In Connecticut, for example, failing to provide proper shelter for an outdoor pet can result in animal cruelty charges.

Keep hazardous items out of reach

According to the ASPCA, a litany of springtime items pose a threat to our pets. These include:

  •  Easter candy and decorations
  • The ingredients in lawn and garden chemicals,
  • The plants and flowers that will soon appear in our gardens
  • household cleaning products that we’ll use to get rid of winter funk

Keeping these items out of reach is key to keeping our pets safe at this time of year. But if you do have reason to believe your pet has swallowed a harmful substance, it is crucial to call your own vet or the ASPCA Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

A cat may be able to land on its feet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get hurt

Before you yield to temptation and throw the windows wide open, the ASPCA also recommends checking all of the screens. Make sure they aren’t ripped or torn, and make sure they are well secured, the organization recommends. This is especially important for cat owners — after all, your cat may be able to withstand a fall from a significant height — but that doesn’t mean he or she will come out of it completely unscathed.

Whatever you do, do not leave your pets in the car this summer

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Yes, it’s hot outside. At least, that’s the case here in the northeast. So as we get ready for the Memorial Day weekend and the unofficial start of summer, I am begging you guys to do me a huge favor. Please, whatever you do, do not leave your pets — or your kids — in the car by themselves.

I don’t care if you’ll “only be gone for a couple of minutes.” I don’t care if you leave the windows open. It doesn’t even matter if you parked in the shade.

Leaving your pet in a parked car by itself is a recipe for disaster — and in some states it’s also against the law.

Yes, It’s Criminal

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

For people in my line of work, certain websites are invaluable. In fact, is the first place I check when I’ve got an especially challenging assignment. With just a few clicks of a mouse I can find just about anything I need — which often saves a lot of time. So naturally that’s the first place I checked when I wanted to find out more about state laws prohibiting people from leaving their animals in parked cars.

According to an article by Rebecca F. Wisch that I found there, leaving an animal in a parked car was illegal in 19 states as of 2015.

“Most of these laws provide that the animals must be confined or unattended in a parked or stationary vehicle,” Wisch says. “Further, the laws add that in order for a person to violate the law, the conditions have to endanger the animal’s life. Some of the statutes specifically state that extreme hot or cold temperatures, lack of adequate ventilation, or failing to provide food and drink meet this definition. Other laws are more vague and just require that the conditions are such that physical injury or death is likely to result.”

In other words, don’t push your luck if you live in one of the following states:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Illinois
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

A Closer Look

In at least seven of the states with existing laws, leaving an animal in a parked car is a misdemeanor. This typically means punishment upon conviction includes fines, up to a year in jail, or both. In other states, it is a petty misdemeanor, violation or infraction carrying lesser penalties upon conviction. A noticeable exception is New Hampshire, where a “second or subsequent offense” is a Class B felony.

“Even without a local or state law, this action could still constitute cruelty under some circumstances,” Wisch says.

If all of that’s not enough to make you think twice, consider this. How would you like it if someone locked you in a boiling hot car against your will?

Move over, damn it! Bicyclists state their case

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Springing forward

With temperatures soaring into the 70s in the New York metropolitan area this week, it’s beginning to feel a lot like springtime around here. And you know what that means.

We’re going to lose an hour of sleep but gain an hour of daylight (allegedly). The flowers will bloom, the grass will grow and some of us will get wicked allergies. As if all of that isn’t annoying enough, we’ll be forced to share the roads with bicyclists, joggers, people on roller blades and maybe even people on hover boards. Oh, joy!

But let’s focus on the bicyclists for now. Yes, those weekend warriors who ride in packs and hog the roads, effectively turning them into treacherous slalom courses for motorists. Honestly, is there anything more aggravating than getting stuck behind a bunch of bicyclists on a Saturday afternoon?

That’s a rhetorical question — but that’s not to say there isn’t another side to the story.

Going to bat for the bicyclists

Urban bicycles. Photo by In Brief Legal Services Founder Alexandra Bogdanovic
New York City bikes. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

According to a recent Hartford Courant report, Connecticut groups that support cyclists want stiffer fines for drivers who don’t play by the rules. Specifically, they have asked state lawmakers to approve a new measure that would level harsher penalties against drivers who don’t “yield to pedestrians or bicycles that are legally using the road.”

Advocates say the measure would improve overall safety. But critics say the wording in the proposed bill is too vague. Critics also claim that the proposal fails to address careless behavior by pedestrians and bicyclists.

Reaching a compromise

Personally I think there are better solutions, some of which have already been implemented elsewhere. Designated bike lanes are fine — as long as the roads are wide enough to accommodate them. I also know of a few places where officials close the roads to regular traffic and let bicyclists take over for a set amount of time on certain days, weather permitting.

I’m not sure if there are already laws on the books prohibiting bicyclists from riding in groups or at least preventing them from riding two abreast. If not, I think there should be.

But of course, that’s just my humble opinion. What do you think?


NYC’s top cop unfazed by random attacks

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Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

Oh, goody. New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton doesn’t seem to think a recent bunch of random attacks on ordinary New Yorkers is cause for alarm.

I feel so much better now. I’ll hop right on the next commuter train headed into the City. Once I get there, I’ll take the subway all over the place without thinking twice, as if nothing’s happened.

Or not.

I’m old enough to remember how scary Manhattan was in the 1970s and ’80s.  When I was little my parents kept a close eye on me on the train, and one of them — usually my father — had a death-grip on my hand from the minute our feet hit the platform at Grand Central. He didn’t let go until we arrived at our final destination, or until we were on the train heading back to the relative safety of the New York City suburbs.

We walked everywhere in Manhattan back then. Or we took a cab. Riding the bus was rare and taking the subway was unheard of. Dad said it was too dangerous — and I believed him.

I am old enough to appreciate the City’s renaissance. By the turn of the 21st century, it was safe enough — and I felt brave enough — to venture into Manhattan alone. I even camped out in Rockefeller Center one night. Of course I did with a group of friends so we could have the best “seats” for an outdoor concert the next day.

After I moved back to Connecticut from Virginia in 2012, I took advantage of my proximity to the greatest city on the face of the earth. In fact I romped all over it. I even gained the confidence to take the bus and the subway where ever I wanted to go.

Now The New York Times report about  random crimes occurring throughout the Big Apple sends shivers down my spine. According to the Jan. 27 article, at least a dozen people have been targeted by men armed with “knives or razors” in recent months.

In and of itself, news of these incidents — some of which have occurred on the subway, in subway stations and on public streets — is chilling. The police commissioner’s response is, too.

“We will always have crime in the city,” Bratton told The New York Times.

That may be true, Mr. Bratton. But it is your agency’s job to do something about it.



New year, new laws

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“The AKC was proud to support this important legislation.” – American Kennel Club

A brand new year always brings changes – some of which are good and some of which we can almost certainly do without. Among them are new laws, some of which affect all of us and some that affect only those of us who live in, visit or travel through certain areas.

In any case, the new rules always get their share of ink and generate plenty of conversation. And that makes for copious blog fodder. Have no fear, I’m hardly about to discuss, or even list, every single law that took effect January 1. In this post, I’ll focus on just one – an act changing the New York State social services law regarding victims of domestic violence and their pets.

Black and white photograph of New York Police Department barriers taken by Alexandra Bogdanovic
NYPD barriers. Photo by Alexandra Bogdanovic

The authorized amendment allows those in need of refuge to bring their service or therapy animals to emergency shelters. You can view the full text of the bill  backed by the American Kennel Club that was ultimately signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo here.

On its website, the AKC said it made sense to support the legislation.

“Victims of domestic violence are in a vulnerable and frightening situation, and the practical assistance and comfort that a service/therapy animal provides can be essential,” the organization said. Furthermore, the AKC said that knowing they won’t have to leave their animals behind makes it easier for victims of domestic violence to leave dangerous situations.

For more information about the AKC’s support for the new law and related issues, click here.




It’s that time of the year

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Yes, it’s that time of the year – again.

As a reporter I wrote more than my share of holiday stories. And believe it or not, a lot of them were about looking out for your pet.

In Brief Legal Writing Services  owner Alexandra Bogdanovic's cat, Eli.
Eli under the Christmas Tree. Christmas 2013.

I wrote those stories because I thought it was important – and because I happen to love animals. After all, I’ve had cats since I was a little kid so I know how stressful and scary it can be when you’ve got to rush Rex or Mittens to the vet.

Having said that, there are a whole host of things that we take for granted at this time of year that can be hazardous or even lethal to companion animals.

Everyone knows that chocolate – or more specifically, the ingredients therein – can cause serious illness in dogs and cats. But there are other things that can make Fido or Cleo sick. Holiday decorations, plants, “people food” and even pet treats can be harmful.

The good news is that preventing unwanted emergencies is a matter of exercising a little common sense and a lot of restraint. Keep decorations and house plants out of reach. When it comes to treats of any type, keep in mind that we shouldn’t overindulge — and neither should our pets.