An opioid shortage affecting how hospitals care for patients has reached veterinary clinics and how they sedate pets during surgery.
Since last year, less opioid medications have been manufactured because of concerns about the oversupply of the addictive drugs. And production facilities for opioids such as morphine and Dilaudid have shut down because of damage from the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico and floods in Texas in 2017.
Hospitals, and now veterinary clinics, have to stockpile the sedatives they have, and are turning to alternative medications.
The effect is being felt at veterinary clinics across Central Oregon, according to Dr. Byron Maas, a veterinarian at Bend Veterinary Clinic. Veterinarians are having to use less potent and more short-lived anesthetics, he said.
“We are having to come up with new protocols,” Maas said. “It changes how we get animals under anesthesia and keep them under so they don’t feel the pain.”
Instead of being able to use morphine, which is more predictable and long-lasting during surgery, veterinarians are having to use other sedatives that may only last 45 minutes, Maas said.
Veterinarians are able to do successful surgeries, such as spaying and neutering cats and dogs, but they have to adjust to using the less potent sedatives.
“We’ve had to formulate how we have done anesthesia and keep things safe,” Maas said. “We’ve come up with some different anesthesia protocols.”
In addition, the weaker drugs can be more expensive and the costs are being absorbed by the veterinary clinics. If the opioid shortage becomes long term, that could drive up the costs of procedures for pet owners, Maas said.
But Maas has heard from officials that the shortage is expected to start lifting in the next two months.
In the meantime, the Bend Spay and Neuter Project is taking precautions to save its supply of sedatives. The nonprofit clinic is restricting how many large female dogs are being spayed because they need more sedatives than smaller female dogs or male dogs being neutered.
“We are limiting the large female dogs because they take so much,” clinic manager Rhonda Ahern said. “We would be out and perhaps not be able to do any surgeries.”
Larger animals such as horses are not being affected by the opioid shortage, according to Dr. Liz Pollak at the Bend Equine Medical Center.
The drugs used for horses are not the ones being restricted, Pollak said. Opioids don’t work as well for horses, and even if they did, they would be more expensive to use on horses than smaller animals, she said.
The shortage is problematic for cats and dogs, which tolerate opioids well, said Pollak, who treats cats and dogs in the equine clinic’s small animal division.
Pollak, like other veterinarians, is looking forward to the end of the shortage.
“It seems like it’s restricting our ability to practice medicine,” she said.
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