If you grew up reading James Herriot and dreaming of becoming a veterinarian making mobile calls to help animals in need, you might ultimately have been put off due to the tough restrictions vets face–but that might be about to change.
Federal law currently means that veterinarians face strict limitations on the scope of their practice, including the medications they travel with and the procedures they are allowed to perform. Controlled substances can’t be carried beyond a veterinarian’s licensed premises, which means vets can’t legally conduct mobile spay/neuter clinics, offer at-home euthanasia for animals at the end of a pet’s life, or perform minor surgical procedures on farm calls. Congress, however, is setting out to change this situation with legislation known as the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act.
Under the act, veterinarians would be able to legally carry controlled substances in their kit bags and away from their premises, which would expand their options when it comes to safely and legally providing care to their clients. As it stands now, veterinarians looking to provide mobile care must do so while fearing DEA reprisals for their work, even when they’re involved in disaster response or attempting to provide compassionate care to animals. Being forced to travel without anesthetics and other controlled substances also means that veterinarians who do offer mobile care — like the majority of large animal vets — can’t use the full array of options available to them.
For years now veterinarians have protested this policy, arguing that they have demonstrated their ability to responsibly and effectively handle restricted medications. Drug management protocols in place at veterinary clinics across the US can also be easily adapted to tracking and monitoring the use of drugs offsite, allowing veterinarians to ensure drugs aren’t being abused or inappropriately utilized. Veterinarians today are also deeply committed to providing the best possible care for their patients, and to remaining within the law while doing so. The new legislation simply recognizes the fact that veterinary medical care can’t always be limited to a fixed clinic site, and would allow veterinarians to offer more well-rounded mobile service.
The Senate passed its version of the bill in January, and now the House is following suit. This brings the matter to the desk of the President, who needs to finalize it with his signature. Numerous professional groups in the American veterinary community are supporting the bill, along with farmers and animal welfare organizations who all express concern about animal health and welfare. With the successful passage of the act, veterinarians will be able to legally carry, track, and handle controlled substances beyond their registered offices and to the clients who need them.
This isn’t just good for veterinarians who want to do their jobs and care for animals while respecting the law. It will also benefit the DEA, which will no longer need to invest energy and time in investigations of veterinarians who are simply extending basic care to their patients. Instead, the DEA could focus on larger drug enforcement issues, including working with veterinarians concerned about the abuse of veterinary drugs like ketamine and buprenorpine.
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