WASHINGTON (WUSA9) - Our pets are all about unconditional love. But the drug epidemic is putting them in danger. Some people are purposefully injuring their animals for their next drug fix.
Heather Pereira, of Kentucky, was arrested in 2014 for repeatedly slicing her dog with a razor. Police say Pereira went to several animal hospitals with varying stories on how her dog got injured. This is called "Vet Shopping." The veterinarians would prescribe the painkiller, Tramadol.
Tramadol has opioid-like effects.
"I swear on my family's life, I did not do that," said Pereira during police questioning.
After repeatedly denying putting a razor to her pet, she finally confessed: "I done it."
Matthew, a recovering drug addict, understands Pereira's desperation.
"When you're in active addiction, you'll do whatever it takes to get that next high," Matthew said. The resident of Calvert County, Maryland has been clean from heroin for almost nine months.
Matthew never harmed a pet when he was using, but he did steal the family cat's syringes to shoot up heroin.
"My cat had diabetes. We had to give her insulin through cat syringes," Matthew said. "You know, the addict in my mind said, 'Use it for what you need it for, too.'"
Abuse of pet medication and pet supplies is an emerging issue. There is no conclusive data on how often it happens. However, veterinarians are trying to be pro-active.
"I know that almost all my veterinary colleagues are very aware of this problem," said Dr. Kristy Bennett, DVM, of Montgomery Village Animal Hospital.
Dr. Bennett has seen a few "Vet Shoppers" in her practice, but she has spotted them right away and their far-fetched lies.
"Typically, you start to get excuses of why they need frequent refills. They are running out of drugs before they are supposed to," Dr. Bennett said. "There's always some sort of story of they've lost the prescription."
In an educational pamphlet for veterinarians about drug diversion, the Fairfax County Police Department talks about a case in the summer of 2016. Police write, "A dog owner brought his ten-year-old Boxer to six different veterinarians for treatment. The dog owner reported the following symptoms: separation anxiety, fear of thunderstorms, chewing trim of flooring, urinating on pillows." Police write the "owner received Xanax and Tramadol from multiple veterinarians during the same period of time. He also received early refills. The owner was charged with Prescription Fraud."
Dr. Bennett, in Montgomery Village, and her colleagues, discussed the potential for another big problem: the illegal selling of the prescription medications.
"The biggest thing I worry about is if they are more nefarious and are trying to distribute the drugs," Dr. Bennett said. "I've had other veterinarians tell me of cases where people are getting Tramadol and then selling to other individuals. Even one that was selling them near the school."
Dr. Jason Bollenbeck, DVM, says the current law gives veterinarians control over dispensing the medication.
"We are not required by law to fill a prescription for a pet just because an owner wants it."
Dr. Bollenbeck is the President-Elect of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and practices medicine at the Towne Animal Clinic in Leesburg, Virginia. He says there is no system in place to electronically track "Vet Shopping" and allow veterinarians to see if the dog has been visiting other vet clinics.
"Currently there is no tracking method between practices," he said.
Dr. Bollenbeck advocates for veterinarians to be at the table, when state legislators discuss fighting the opioid crisis.
Meanwhile in Kentucky, Pereira was convicted of animal torture and fraudulently obtaining a controlled substance. Police tell her they'd like to get her help for opioid addiction.
Pereira was sentenced to four years in prison. After serving two years, she has been released.
Police tell WUSA*9 her dog, Alice has recovered from her injuries, and is living with a new family.
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