K-9 Bak’s Horrific Death ~ His Killer Returns…

K-9 Bak’s Horrific Death ~ His Killer Returns…

This is an update on another K9 unresolved hot car death from 2016. It is particularly gruesome. 

I first brought you the story of K-9 Bak on August 30, 2016, in a story called What Is It With These Psycho Cops?? Bak’s death was so disturbing, so egregious that I mentioned him in several posts including The Tragedy of K-9 Bak  on November 3, 2016.

Eight-year-old K-9 Bak was with the Stephens County OK Sheriff’s Dept. for six years. He was dual trained in both narcotics and detection and according to Sheriff Wayne McKinney, brought excellent work to the department. For the past four years, he was partnered with Deputy Matthew Peck, with whom he resided. Ironically, both K-9 Bak and Deputy Peck had both been with the department for six years.

On August 3, 2016, Deputy Peck finished his shift and returned home with Bak in the vehicle. Peck was off duty until August 5. We don’t know if K-9 Bak lived inside Peck’s home or in an outside kennel. What we do know however is that when Peck exited the patrol unit on August 3, he left K-9 Bak inside. Left him with no food, no water, and no air flow.

The outside temperature on August 3 was 100 degrees F  and remained high the rest of the week.

When Deputy Peck entered the patrol unit on August 5, he discovered his partner’s dead body. There was also a noticeable odor. In the initial media reports there were some discrepancies as to exactly when on August 5 Peck discovered K-9 Bak deceased; one report said he discovered him as soon as he entered the patrol vehicle and another said it wasn’t till he arrived at the Sheriff’s Department then reentered the vehicle to go to court that he made the gruesome discovery. In either event, the dog was left unattended for 38 hours. I cannot comprehend how a handler who has been partnered with a K9 for four years fails to notice that the dog is not out and about. Did it dawn on Peck when Bak’s usual meal time rolled around? Did he once stop and think, “Where is my partner”?When you  handle a dog every working day, month after month, they become just as close to you as any human partner. If a human officer willfully abandoned his partner to die of heat exhaustion, he’d be not only fired, he’d immediately be brought up on felony murder charges.

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Matthew Thomas Peck was arrested on August 29 and charged with one count of cruelty to an animal, a felony punishable by imprisonment for up to five years, and a fine of up to $5,000. After booking he was released on bond.

Matthew Peck

I had planned on attending his hearing scheduled for November 30, 2016, but was notified by the district attorney’s office that Peck had been deployed and would be leaving prior to November 30 therefore the hearing was being postponed. He was deployed to the Ukraine on November 28 with the Oklahoma National Guard Company A 45th Brigade.

The wait began.

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On July 26, 2017, Matthew Peck’s unit returned to Oklahoma.

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He has a Preliminary Hearing Conference scheduled for October 11, 2017, at 9 am at the Stephens County Courthouse. All filed documents pertaining to this case are public record and available online at the Oklahoma State Courts Network. Once the link opens it will automatically be on the Stephens County page. Enter case number CF-16-387 and his case will appear. Documents can either be viewed or downloaded.

Although it’s imperfect, justice does still exist in the world. I have faith in Stephens County Assistant District Attorney Cortnie Siess to ensure that K9 Officer Bak receives it and that his slow and agonizing death not go unpunished.

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K-9 Bak

EOW August 5, 2016

Stephens County Sheriff’s Department

He has gone home to rest for the final time

“Officer Kilo Bak is 10-42 … Good Boy Bak”

 

💙💙The  blue line has not forgotten you💙💙

*To be continued in November 💙🖤

 

Next Up ~ A loyal K9 is brutally murdered in AR

 

K-9 Doki ~ Have You Forgotten Him?…

K-9 Doki ~ Have You Forgotten Him?…

Heat related K9 deaths ~ and so it begins for 2017.

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K-9 Doki, a two-year-old Belgian Malinois with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, Ridgeland, SC, died on April 20, 2017.  According to the Jasper County Sun Times, K9-Doki’s death was attributed to heat exhaustion when the K-9 vehicle he was in experienced a “malfunction causing the temperature to rise to an unsafe level,” the JCSO said. He was rushed to a veterinarian hospital where tragically he died. According to Accuweather.com, the outside temperature in Ridgeland, SC on April 20 was 85 degrees F.

Doki 2 year old Belgium Malinois

How long K-9 Doki was in the vehicle is unknown. Very little is known about K-9 Doki except that he had been with the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office for approximately one year. This article refers to the announcement of his death on the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page but I wasn’t able to locate it.  They have two Facebook pages but the first one says it’s their official page whereas the second doesn’t.

In either case, neither page mentions K-9 Doki nor are there any photographs, almost as if he’s been forgotten. 

I  was also unable to find any mention of a funeral, memorial service or tribute of any kind. It is as if he never existed which is truly heartbreaking because Doki’s life did matter. Perhaps The JCSO should read this and take heed.

A Working Dog’s Oath
I will lay down my life for you
and expect nothing but love in return.
I protect my officer with my life,
and would gladly take a bullet in his place.
I am sent in to find lost children
and fugitives on the run.
I find drugs and weapons and even bombs.
I am the first sent in  

and sometimes the last to leave.
I am the nose and ears of my officer.

I will protect and serve him.
I would die for him and for you.
I only ask for compassion and a kind word

K9

The first to sense the hostility of a suspect,

The first to react to protect his master.

The first to enter where danger lurks.

The first to detect the hidden intruder.

The first to take action against violence.

The first to sense his master’s joy.

The first to know his master’s sorrow or fear.

The first to give his life in defense of his master.

The last to be forgotten by those who work with others like him.

They know him as a “Partner,” not just an animal.

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Your Life Mattered Dear Boy…

 

🖤Next Up ~ The return of a monster.💙

Summer 2017 ~ More K9 Deaths Including Murder…

Summer 2017 ~ More K9 Deaths Including Murder…

In the summer of 2016 there were twelve known heat related deaths of K9s who were left in a hot vehicle by their handler. As of August 22, 2017 there have been thirteen heat related K9 deaths in the US; twelve in a hot vehicle and one  overworked in oppressive heat. It doesn’t end there however because another K9 was “mysteriously” murdered, bringing the total death rate to fourteen.

Every year the K9 death toll climbs despite more public awareness. But then, these dogs don’t die at the hand of a member of the public but rather, through the negligent actions of their handler. This is not simply not acceptable. Police officers need to be held to a higher standard to protect their canine partners; a highly skilled and trained dog that would take a bullet intended for his human. The rise in heat related K9 deaths are preventable and illustrate acts of negligence or over-reliance on technology to protect these dogs.  Safety monitoring system aside, how does one “forget” their partner?  These K9s are the unsung heroes of any police department plus loyal companions who are frequently put in harm’s way because, like their human partner, their job is to protect and serve. I thought law enforcement as a whole had progressed to the point where departments placed the same importance on a K9 officer as they do on a human one; that their service, sacrifices and lives are viewed with the same intensity as a human.  Sadly I was mistaken for it appears that many departments view these invaluable canines as mere equipment, disposable commodities. A paltry memorial service (if at all), no media coverage past the initial death, and the department “circles the wagons” around the handler, often not releasing his name for months. He’s allowed to continue working pending investigation or sometimes suspended with pay.

To illustrate the integral role canines have in law enforcement, I’ve chosen three cases from 2017 that demonstrate the value these remarkable animals bring to their departments and community.

K-9 Casper Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office West Palm Beach, FL

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On May 12, 2017 Casper, a 4-year-old K9 SWAT and bomb detection dog with the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, took a bullet for his handler during a Jupiter, Florida, shootout. Miraculously, the bullet missed K-9 Casper’s vital organs and he was saved with immediate veterinary intervention. The story and heartwarming video can be seen here in a video provided by the PBSO. In a media interview, his handler describes the harrowing ordeal and how grateful he is to his partner.

K9 Casper

K-9 Casper has since returned to work and July 11, 2017 was named  “K-9 Casper Day” in Palm Beach County. The suspect, 46-year-old Philip O’Shea, was killed at the scene.

K-9 Cain Crossville Police Department  TN

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On August 2, K-9 Cain, a 3-year-old trained in patrol and narcotics with the Crossville Police Department in Tennessee, died after being stabbed multiple times by a suspect he was pursuing. Despite heroic efforts by his handler  and a Crossville Fire Department member,  this hero succumbed to his injuries. He was honored in a moving funeral service attended by hundreds on August 11.

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Courtesy of Crossville PD

His grief-stricken handler talks about losing his faithful partner in one of the passionate descriptions I’ve ever heard of the bond between a handler and their dog. The suspect, 28-year-old Dustin Lee Dixon, remains in custody.

K-9 Lex Adams County Sheriff’s Office CO

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On August 16, 2017, K-9 Lex, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois certified in narcotics and patrol with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado, saved his injured partner by opening a latched gate with his paw and going to his partner’s aid . The dynamic duo had become separated in a chase when the deputy jumped a fence to pursue the suspect and became embroiled in a fight.  The handler was hospitalized for his injuries but made a full recovery. The suspect, 25-year-old Gabriel Steven Garcia, was charged with attempted first-degree murder and assault in the attack on the deputy and remains in custody with a latch he can’t open.

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 Once again, a dog comes to their human partner’s aid.

K9

The first to sense the hostility of a suspect,

The first to react to protect his master.

The first to enter where danger lurks.

The first to detect the hidden intruder.

The first to take action against violence.

The first to sense his master’s joy.

The first to know his master’s sorrow or fear.

The first to give his life in defense of his master.

The last to be forgotten by those who work with others like him.

They know him as a “Partner,” not just an animal.

 

Next Up ~ K9 Doki

                                                                           💙🖤 

 

 

 

 

Summer & More K9 Deaths But First…

Summer & More  K9 Deaths But First…

Before I begin detailing the 2017 senseless, heat related K9 deaths and one K9 who was mysteriously murdered, I want to do an update on several deaths from the summer of 2016.

I first wrote about the hot car death of K-9 Lina, an officer with the Madison County Sheriff’s department in November 2016,  The Senseless Death of K-9 Lina….Part 1

I knew there would be a second part because no decision had been made regarding disciplinary action or charges against the handler who had forgotten about her in a hot patrol unit parked in his driveway. Little did I know how convoluted her story would become until it began unfolding. I eventually write four parts because I wanted the public to know how some departments dismiss a hot car death as “an unfortunate accident”. The negligent handler might receive a minor disciplinary action but charges aren’t usually brought and if they are it’s typically a misdemeanor. The reasoning behind the prosecutor’s decision (with department input) basically comes down to negligence versus intention. Was the handler negligent? If the parties involved believe this then the K9s death is ruled accidental. If they believe the handler had intent then it’s criminal. I agree there’s a difference between intention and negligence for clearly in most cases but not all,  the K9s death was not the handlers intent. However, prosecutors and departments cannot continue to dismiss these deaths as unfortunate accidents and therefore deem the handler simply negligent. They must be held to a higher standard to protect their partners. These deaths are preventable and illustrate acts of wanton negligence or over-reliance on technology to protect the dogs when in reality, it is the handler’s responsibility. When an officer is partnered with a K9, they become just as close as a human partner. Would they lock their human partner in a vehicle for hours? With no means of escape? Unequivocally the answer is no. And if they did? The charges would be much harsher than a low-level misdemeanor and their careers would instantly end. Yet the powers to determine time and time again that the K9’s death is negligent accompanied by a plethora of excuses for the officer; overworked sleep deprivation ~ the list is endless.

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The September 9, 2016, hot car death of K-9 Lina was deemed an accident. Matt Durrett, 4th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney announced on September 23 that he was not charging Deputy Cornelison. To his credit, on September 26, Sheriff Phillip Morgan took disciplinary action for K-9 Lina’s death:

Deputy Cornelison will:

  1. Be suspended without pay for 60 days.
  2. Be removed from the K9 program.
  3. Be decertified as a K9 Handler.
  4. A letter of reprimand will be placed in his file.
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Sheriff Phillip Morgan

The community rallied around the deputy by forming a Facebook support group and collecting funds to help him while on the unpaid suspension. Finally, on November 12, a memorial service for K-9 Lina was held. Yet her name wasn’t on the MCSO Memorial Page.

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She was only two years old.

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Now…

On January 1, 2017, Madison County had a new sheriff,  Sheriff Rick Evans.

R Evans

K-9 Lina is finally listed on the MCSO Memorial page. In June 2017, a new K9 handler was announced on the MSCO website. Former Sheriff Phillip Morgan kept his word about having heat sensing equipment in the K9 vehicles:

Clint Ham, is our new K-9 Handler, he has been partnered up with Kandy, and equipped with a new vehicle which has been paid for with 100% drug forfeiture funds, the vehicle is equipped with all the latest equipment, including heat sensor/alarms which will signal the handler if the temperature in the vehicle rises to a dangerous level, in addition it will roll the windows down, and will activated lights and siren if the condition is not corrected. Kandy from all indication will be an outstanding asset to the Madison County Sheriff Office.

As for Deputy Jonathan Cornelison? He has been promoted and is now Corporal Cornelison.

K9 Lina Cornelison

 K-9

The first to sense the hostility of a suspect,

The first to react to protect his master.

The first to enter where danger lurks.

The first to detect the hidden intruder.

The first to take action against violence.

The first to sense his master’s joy.

The first to know his master’s sorrow or fear.

The first to give his life in defense of his master.

The last to be forgotten by those who work with others like him.

They know him as a “Partner,” not just an animal.

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Lina, we haven’t forgotten… 

 

Maine Drug Law PL488: A Multitude of Problems…Part 3

Maine Drug Law PL488: A Multitude of Problems…Part 3

HIPAA is a privacy law enacted, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996. A state (Maine) cannot implement law at will to supersede federal because federal laws takes priority over state laws due to the supremacy clause of our Constitution.

Under the Privacy Law there are Covered Entities and Business Entities; however neither list includes veterinarians. The American Medical Association’s web page has this description of HIPAA on it today. Note, this description is on the website of the American Medical Association, which represents human medicine,  not the American Veterinarian Association (AVMA) which represents that of animals. Plus neither veterinarians nor their designated staff are  bound by HIPAA regulations. How can pet owners who agree to have their personal prescriptions reviewed  by someone from a veterinary practice be assured that whatever is seen will remain confidential? They can’t. Whereas in human medicine any HIPAA violations are dealt with appropriately. I think this places an extra burden on a practice, especially a small one. Plus I believe they are as uncomfortable viewing a humans prescriptions as we are knowing the law requires them to.

That gives rise to the question, how can Maine residents be sure their personal data is safe? On March 22, 2017 it was announced that a hacker had breached the Maine Department of Labor’s Job Link, a job matching service. While the service was outsourced to a Kansas company in July 2016, it was reported that the Maine DOL’s computer system is antiquated therefore indirectly played a part in the breach. Officials say the hacker was able to view names, social security numbers, and birth dates of site users. Since July, over 12,000 Maine residents have utilized the site and to date the number of users affected is unknown. So how do we know if the Maine PMP is secure? It’s disturbing alone that a veterinary practice staff member is required to look at consenting humans drug records and that a 5 year window of prescription activity is accessible on the PMP. Now we must also wonder about the security of the electronic system.

 

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Email sent by Maine DOL on March 24

 

Secondly the state is mandating that veterinarians operate outside their scope of practice since pharmacology is often vastly different between the species. They are expected to make a judgement call when reviewing the owner’s (or anyone picking up the animal) prescription drugs on the PMP database and determining if prescribing a controlled drug for the animal would enable the owner to “potentially” exceed the mandated daily limit of 100 MME. This alone is requiring a doctor trained in animal physiology to understand human physiology. Would you expect your dentist to prescribe medications for your cat’s seizures? Or expect your veterinarian to know how much Vicodin you need following major orthopedic surgery? What if a veterinarian makes the wrong judgement call simply based on the numbers? A pet could be denied much-needed medication. Do legislators really have the power to make such laws where one’s medical privacy is violated and their pet possibly left in pain or distress?The inclusion of veterinarians in this hasty bill is not the answer to the opiate epidemic. Perhaps stricter sentencing should be considered. Recently in my Maine community, during the same court session, a drug trafficker was given a suspended sentence and allowed to freely  exit the building whereas someone who embezzled money was sentenced to jail hence escorted out by deputies. The drug he trafficked was Suboxone which is both addictive and has the potential to be fatal  if combined with certain other drugs. While I’m certainly not defending someone who embezzled money, as a nurse who worked in a large city teaching hospital, I’ve never heard of someone dying because of it. The stark contrast in sentencing was disturbing and reinforced my belief that including veterinarians in PL 488 is not going to stem the opiate epidemic; appropriate sentencing is.

As a Maine resident  who refuses to allow my HIPAA rights to be violated, and as an animal owner who does not want my pet to suffer, I  reached out to my elected officials and Augusta, the state capitol, multiple times since February 2017 in an attempt to express my concern. My communications have been completely ignored with the exception of Senator Thomas Saviello who was initially  helpful but once I began asking more focused questions regarding PL 488, he no longer responds. This is certainly not the reaction I expected from my elected officials nor is it one I’ve experienced while living in other states.

Next ~ Who else is adversely affected by Maine’s PL488?

Maine’s New Drug Law: Veterinary Visits Get Complicated….Part 2

Maine’s New Drug Law: Veterinary Visits Get Complicated….Part 2

Why are the legislators in Maine including veterinarians in a bill that is geared towards stemming the opiate epidemic?

The nation has an opioid abuse problem and it’s naive to think some animals owners have never diverted their pet’s medication or sought drugs for the animal when it’s really for them. To vet shop however requires more than doctor shopping. When doctor shopping one much be a very good actor. If you have a history of chronic pain even better. Veterinarian shopping requires a prop; your animal. It means establishing a profile for your pet at numerous veterinary practices. It means paying multiple veterinary bills to get drugs which A. aren’t really the type an addict wants and B. could be obtained cheaper on the street or through friends.

It’s not uncommon for veterinarians to prescribe painkillers to animals that suffer from chronic pain or that have undergone surgery. In some cases, these painkillers can be opioid based. But what our legislators  fail to take into consideration is the dosing difference between humans and animals; the dosing difference between felines and canines. And unlike a human who can “act” the part of a person in pain and verbalize their symptoms, animals can’t. Because they cannot communicate, non-verbal cues are the best way to determine the severity of a pet’s pain regardless of what the owner says. The veterinarian listens to the owner describe what Pup or Kitty are doing but then does a physical assessment of the animal. The last two decades have seen a huge change in the way veterinary medicine addresses  pain in an animal. Whereas the previous line of thinking was Animals don’t feel pain” or “Keep them quiet and it will speed their healing because they won’t move around much”. Thankfully the veterinary profession has embraced the idea of pain management for both large and small animals and several pain scales are currently in use. Colorado State University Veterinary Medical Center uses this scale to evaluate acute pain in kittens and this one to evaluate acute canine pain.

A November 2015  publication from JAMA  gives an excellent overview of how pain is assessed and evaluated in animals whether it’s acute as in surgical or chronic like osteoarthritis. And if one is fortunate to live in a progressive area, there are even pain management clinics for animals like the one at Cummings Hospital which is part of The Veterinary School of Medicine at Tufts University in Massachusetts. More than ever, veterinarians are aware of pain in animals whether it be a broken leg, advanced arthritis or cancer. This excellent article, The Hurt Unlocker, by Genevieve Rajewski, Editor for Tufts Veterinary School, gives a great overview of pain in animals and how it’s best managed.

PL 488 requires the following parameters for veterinarians:

  • All veterinarians who prescribe opiates or benzodiazepines must register as data requesters with the PMP
  • All veterinarians must check the records of the individual seeking care for the animal, and if appropriate the owner, prior to prescribing opiates or benzodiazepines. A valid state or federal photo ID should be checked, and a birthdate and full name must be acquired in order to check the PMP of an individual. This would also apply to anyone you had drop off or pick up Fido.
  • All written prescriptions must include a DEA number.
  • All prescriptions intended for use by an animal must indicate such use on the prescription.
  • Diagnosis and exemption codes are not required on veterinary prescriptions.
  • As of July 1, 2017, veterinarians with the capability to prescribe electronically will be required to do so. In April 2017 a waiver is expected to be released that will allow veterinarians without the capability to apply to be exempt.
  • The Aggregate Morphine Milligram Equivalent for the person who either owns the animal or is transporting.  The 100 MME/daily limit would  include the anticipated new prescription.
  • The number of prescribers currently prescribing controlled substances to the individual.
  • The number of pharmacies currently filling prescriptions for controlled substances for the individual.
  • Veterinarians will be required to complete three hours of CE (continuing education) related to the prescription of opioids by December 31, 2017, and subsequently every two years. **

The Maine Veterinary Medical Association has even “helped” veterinarians by preparing a presentation  plus consent form for the humans to sign which gives the veterinarian or his designate permission to access the person’s drug records. What exactly does that mean? If narcotics are being prescribed, the human bringing the animal in or picking the animal up must consent to having their drug records accessed by someone in the veterinary practice. Let’s think about this for a minute. Your dog has surgery and because of the postoperative pain the veterinarian wants to prescribe tramadol, a Schedule III narcotic as of 2014. Because of work hours you ask your neighbor to pick Fido up. Imagine their shock when they have to fill out the consent form, show their driver’s licence or other form of photo ID and wait while their drug profile is accessed and evaluated by a veterinarian, highly trained and skilled in animal medicine. And if the veterinarian calculating the human dosage determines your neighbor is at the top of the 100 MMEs daily allotment and the tramadol for your dog would exceed that amount, legally they can’t prescribe it. Also, a veterinarian had no way of knowing why a person is on the controlled drugs; only that they are. Based on numbers found in a database, a highly skilled veterinarian is being ordered by the State of Maine to practice veterinary medicine but use human protocols. In short, they are being mandated to practice outside their scope which is a violation. To ask a veterinarian who as I outlined in my previous post has extensive knowledge of animal physiology to prescribe pain medication for an animal based on how much of the daily allotment a human already has prescribed for them by a medical doctor is absolutely ludicrous.

Then there is palliative care for an animal with an end stage disease that is painful. The State has not set any exemptions for veterinarians but has for human doctors.

Prescribers are exempt from the limits on opioid medication prescribing established in this rule if:

  1. Pain associated with active and aftercare cancer treatment. Providers must document in the medical record that the pain experienced by the individual is directly related to the individual’s cancer or cancer treatment. An exemption for aftercare cancer treatment may be claimed up to six months post remission

  2. Palliative care in conjunction with a serious illness;

As someone who had a beloved dog diagnosed with canine lymphoma in October 2015, I would have been beyond furious if her oncologist couldn’t prescribe opiates for her as she neared the end ~ simply because my husband or I were at the top of the daily allotment. 

Addiction is an epidemic that can no longer be ignored. However the welfare of innocent animals should not be impacted, veterinarians mandated to operate at best, on the fringe of their scope of practice, nor our guarantee of privacy under HIPAA violated because neither veterinarians nor their staff are bound by HIPPA regulations.

Yet the State of Maine is doing all of these things.

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Maine: Passed A Law That Could Harm Animals And Their Veterinarians…Part 1

Maine: Passed A Law That Could Harm Animals And Their Veterinarians…Part 1

Like nearly every state, Maine is dealing with an opiate and heroin epidemic. In 2015, Maine experienced 272 overdose related fatalities.

In an effort to combat the opiate epidemic, the Maine Legislature enacted   P.L. 2015, ch. 488 (An Act to Prevent Opiate Abuse by Strengthening the Controlled Substances Prescription Monitoring Program) which became effective January 1, 2017. PL 488 affects nearly all facets of healthcare by establishing specific rules for prescribing and dispensing controlled medications. It defines the protocols that must be followed and sets prescription limits on how much opiate a patient may legally be prescribed to take per day. This is called the Aggregate Morphine Milligram Equivalent and the total daily amount allowed is 100 Morphine Milligram Equivalents (100 MMEs ).

PL 488 mandates that whenever a medical provider prescribes a controlled substance, they first check the PMP (Prescription Monitoring Program) to review the MME for the patient, what controlled drugs the patient is currently taking, who prescribed them and the pharmacy that filled the prescription. They must calculate if the drug they want to prescribe will, when added to the patient’s current daily MMEs, increase the allowed 100 MMEs and if so, not prescribe it. They  must note if there are multiple prescriptions, providers or pharmacies. If the provider notices anything in the patients PMP profile that raises a red flag, they are required by law to report it to the PMP Coordinator. There are of course many other components to PL 488 but I only want to touch on the highlights and how it impacts Maine residents who are pet owners in addition to  veterinarians. Yes that’s correct ~ veterinarians because Maine’s Legislatures have determined that the inclusion of veterinarians in PL 488 will help reduce the opiate epidemic. I disagree because including veterinarians in PL 488 creates two major violations. First however I’d like to walk you through a veterinarian’s education.

If a young person thinks they want to become a veterinarian, they should begin preparing in high school by paying attention to their performance in science courses, such as chemistry, biology, and physics. This same attention applies to math courses; trigonometry, geometry, and algebra. After high school graduation the student attends a 4 year college to earn their bachelor’s degree where they take the prerequisite courses for admittance into veterinary college.These consist of many advanced science courses, such as biochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, and physics. They are necessary to prepare the student for the vigorous coursework in veterinary college. Prospective veterinarians must complete a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. Typically, a doctorate in veterinary medicine takes four years to complete. Of these four years, three are spent on classroom training where students take courses in animal anatomy and physiology. They also take courses on disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment. After completing three years of classroom training, students take another year left to complete their degree in veterinary medicine. The fourth year is typically spent getting practical, hands-on training. This takes the form of a one-year clinical rotation in a veterinary medical center or veterinary hospital to gain experience in a variety of areas of veterinary medicine. After graduating with a doctorate in veterinary medicine, veterinarians are not yet able to open a practice. Before practicing veterinary medicine, graduates must pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination and any applicable state exams. Their path is definitely not a short one but throughout it is focused primarily on one thing ~ animal anatomy, physiology and wellness. 

Maines’s new PL 488 and it’s impact on veterinarians is such. If an owner takes their pet to be seen and the veterinarian feels it necessary to prescribe a narcotic or benzodiazepine for your pet, they must first do a check on the owner with DHHS to determine if the owner is on a controlled substance. As I previously mentioned I still need to clarify the parameters but the fact that a veterinarian or perhaps his staff has the power to access a person’s prescriptions is a huge HIPAA violation. But I digress. Let’s use a hypothetical situation. Owner has an anxiety disorder for which he takes Valium on a daily basis. He also has a severe back issue (long-term) so is on hydrocodone for pain control. His cat is hit by a car and taken to the vet where she undergoes successful emergency surgery but because her injuries are severe, the vet prescribes a pain medication; hydrocodone. Would the fact that the owner is on hydrocodone prohibit the vet from prescribing it for the cat’s postoperative pain? If so, would he be allowed to prescribe a different pain medication such as tramadol which also falls in the opiate category? Is he is prohibited from prescribing any narcotic because the owner is on two (2)?  Or is it only if the owner is on the same drug? If his prescriptive powers are limited because the owner is on a controlled substance, what criteria is used to determine if the animal can or cannot get a prescription?

Whilst I understand the opiate epidemic our country is tackling, how can a veterinarian or anyone for that matter be absolutely certain that a person who is taking several controlled drugs is abusing or trafficking? Plus the thought that an innocent animal might have to suffer needlessly because his owner is on a controlled substance is not only abhorrent but inhumane.  I want to know if it’s possible for the check to be done during non-business hours when DHHS is closed. Does the veterinarian’s office have to speak directly to a DHHS employee or is the information accessible online? And if it is accessible online, how can we, the human patient, be assured it’s secure? If the drug check on the owner can’t be done when DHHS is closed, then what happens to the animal who is in pain?  Any pet owner knows that many accidents happen at night, weekends or holidays when government agencies like DHHS are closed; what then?  Going back to HIPAA, who has authority within the veterinary practice to request the DHHS information? Can a receptionist do it? A vet tech? Or only the veterinarian? Finally, I do not understand how PL 488, a state law, can override HIPAA, a federal law enacted in 1996 by Congress and signed into effect by then President Bill Clinton. Under HIPAA an individual’s medical and other health information including prescriptions, is private and protected. The Privacy Law sets limits on who can look at and receive our health information such as covered entities and their business associates. As a nurse and former Union representative I am extremely familiar with HIPAA. In light of PL 488 however I reviewed it once again and nowhere did I find where veterinarians, veterinary technicians, or veterinary employees of any type are entitled to our records in any form. Additionally, PL 488 is in essence requiring veterinarians to understand human medication dosages compared to animals which often differ greatly.

I chose a veterinary team for my German Shepherd based on their reputations and expertise in animal physiology, not human. I value all members of her team despite being in different practices because of their knowledge. Having said that, I expect they keep current with the newest modalities of treatment for my dog. They work long hours yet now the State of Maine expects them to undertake additional training in order to understand and monitor the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP)?  A program historically used only for humans?

This is ludicrous. There has to be a middle ground, a way the government, human healthcare providers and law enforcement can work together in an effort to reduce the rampant drug abuse without violating a person’s rights or including veterinarians where there is potential for an animal to suffer because “something” raises a red flag when in reality it could be legitimate.