Underground pet medication: Is Fido in danger?
Reporter: Corinne Hautala
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – There’s a growing drug problem that is on the radar of veterinarians and buyers are purchasing the drugs believing they’re getting a good deal.
As big box stores and online sites continue to grow, veterinarians tell 9OYS, so does the underground pet medication trade.
Dr. Richard Panzero, a veterinarian with River Road Pet Clinic, said he’s been approached through e-mails and by phone to take part in the unlawful deal.
“They really hound you. It's a lure of easy money,” said Dr. Panzero.
Typically, pet medication is produced by big pharmaceutical companies; it then goes to a distributor and then is shipped to a veterinary clinic. At the vet clinic, some veterinarians are selling the meds to stores.
“By law the major prescribers of veterinary drugs have to be licensed veterinarians. Companies like Merck, Pfizer, Novartis, they will not sell to anyone other than a licensed veterinarian who has a relationship with their client and patient,” explained Dr. Panzero. “So the fact of the matter is, that some veterinarians are in financial hardship and find it necessary buy these drugs in bulk and them sell them secondarily to these big box stores or online pharmacies, because they will not get them directly from the manufacturers.”
Dr. Panzero said it is disappointing and surprising that veterinarians are doing this, but told 9OYS being a veterinarian isn’t as lucrative as many think, so many are resorting to pet med diversion to make a quick buck.
The President and Co-Founder of the Veterinary Information Network or VIN, Dr. Paul Pion, said it is a problem that lies in prescription and non-prescription pet medications.
“We recently did a series of articles,” said Dr. Pion.
He said the articles were to demonstrate how easy it was for a veterinarian to sell to a retail outlet. A veterinarian in a remote area, not in a high need of the pet medication she was purchasing, dramatically increased the quantity being shipped to her clinic.
“They [the clinic] went from less than a $1,000 per year in purchasing and in slightly over a year, purchased, about $130,000 worth,” explained Dr. Pion, “[They] Were not detected. In fact, were encouraged by the manufacturer to purchase more.”
9OYS asked Dr. Panzero if he thought if he increased his pet medication order the manufacturer would take notice.
“I would say Merck and Pfizer, in particular, track this and if they see a spike they kind of know what is going on so they'll pay a little visit,” he said. “It is kind of a touchy situation, because they want to sell the product obviously, they're making money every time they do, but at the same time they know it is being diverted.”
9OYS contacted several top pet medication manufacturers.
While most did not return our call we did hear back from a few and were able to get our hands on a statement from Pfizer sent to a local veterinarian.
It reads, “Our policy is to sell our prescription medications for dogs and cats exclusively to licensed veterinarians.” It goes on to read, “We do not sell our prescription medications for dogs and cats to retail outlets, pet supply store, internet sites… Nor do we support in any way secondary supply to these businesses.”
For most manufacturers, it is policy to only sell to veterinarians, gaining them respect in the profession for doing so. However, Bayer, is stepping out of that box.
In a statement to 9OYS, Bayer explained a shift in their policy.
“We have expanded direct selling beyond the veterinary clinic and began selling Advantage and K9 Advantix (now Advantage II and K9 Advantix II) directly to pet specialty retailers including online pharmacy sites."
Veterinarians say that will lose them respect, but say at least they are selling to retail outlets in an honest way.
The pet meds that are diverted veterinarians said come with a risk.
They explained the quality of the product may not be as good compared to the products at the veterinary clinic. Dr. Panzero said with a middle man there is no tracking the medication and knowing if it was tampered with or stored improperly.
Veterinarians also agree it weakens the relationship between veterinarian and patient and buyers are not getting proper education on what they’re purchasing.
9OYS wanted to know if there was a way to put a stop to this. With people purchasing the meds and professionals making a profit, veterinarians seem to agree the answer is no.