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Bill would exempt veterinarians from state opioid database

Rep. Justin Ruffridge presents his veterinary exemption bill in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee to Chairman Jesse Bjorkman.
Riley Board
/
KDLL
Rep. Justin Ruffridge presents his veterinary exemption bill in the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee to Chairman Jesse Bjorkman.

A database designed to curb prescription drug abuse in the state is creating a headache for medical professionals who don’t work with human patients. Veterinarians say the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, or PDMP, is a regulatory hassle, creates privacy concerns and just doesn’t apply to veterinary medicine.

Soldotna Republican Rep. Justin Ruffridge introduced a bill that would exempt vets statewide from the program. A state law in 2008 created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. In 2017, in response to rising rates of opioid use in the state, it became mandatory for medical providers who provide or administer scheduled substances to report to PDMP.

Veterinarian Jim Delker co-owns Twin Cities Veterinary Clinic in Soldotna with his wife. He said the PDMP is great for human patients, but doesn’t make sense for veterinarians.

“There are far more people that are dying from fentanyl overdoses, and they’re not coming from veterinary clinics. They’re coming from illicit sources of drugs. That’s where we need to focus our resources at,” he said. “On the veterinary side, the PDMP is not doing what it was intended to do.”

Delker is a long-time advocate for the veterinary exemption, and said the reporting system is a major drain on the clinic's staff.

He said the PDMP just isn’t designed for vets.

“Animals don’t have identifiers, they don’t have Social Security numbers, drivers licenses, or ways that we can identify each one as they come in,” he said.

Because of this, vets instead look at the prescription histories of the humans who brought them in, posing a major privacy issue for pet owners.

“If you were to bring in your pet, I would be looking at your drug history of controlled substances. Not just opioids, anything that’s considered a controlled substance,” Delker said. “So that might include anti-anxiety meds, that might include hormone replacements, it might include a number of things that are controlled substances that I don’t really have any need to have access to.”

Because the pet owner-vet relationship is not bound by HIPAA, Delker said it creates an unnecessary gray area for vets.

Delker also said vets dispense very few opioids or other drugs that are sought out for prescription. When vets use controlled substances like opioids, it's usually in the clinic in a surgical capacity.

There are 33 other states that exempt veterinarians from reporting, many that have made the same switch the bill is proposing. The bill has broad support from several veterinary associations in the state.

Ruffridge’s bill passed the House overwhelmingly last month, and this week he presented the bill to the other chamber’s Labor and Commerce Committee, chaired by Nikiski Sen. Jesse Bjorkman. A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Roger Holland [R-Anchorage] passed the Senate last year, but didn’t make it out of the House.

There are just over five weeks left in the session for the Legislature to pass the bill.

This story was supported by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism's Legislative Reporter Exchange Program.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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