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 its 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 taking 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. The 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 taking 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.

K9 Deaths; A Minor Accomplishment …

K9 Deaths; A Minor Accomplishment …

I’ve been a bit quiet lately. Partially because I’ve been working on getting my German Shepherd Sasha’s blog online
 and up to date. But I’ve also taken my passion for K9s who die unnecessarily because of handler negligence to a new level. An “I’m in your face and not going away” kind of level. Many animal activists have attempted to enlist me in their causes but emotionally I know my limitations. I’m aware of the dog trade in China, the killing of whales and the lucrative trophy hunting industry but I simply cannot look at graphic images nor participate in campaigns.
What I can do however is use my voice to  both raise public awareness and put pressure on police departments to take punitive action when a K9 officer dies because a handler left the dog in a closed squad car while he ran errands, went to the fair, or helped a friend fix a lawnmower – all in 90 F heat. Departments  have historically circled the wagons around handlers, referring to K9 deaths as “tragic accidents”. Yes its tragic but it’s definitely not an accident.  No responsible law enforcement officer “forgets” his partner, a dog so highly trained  and committed to its job they put themselves in harm’s way to protect the handler. And for the most part, K9 handlers are phenomenal in the care they give their 4 legged partners. Sadly these excellent human/dog teams are being eclipsed by the heinous cruelty of a few. Former Lt. Dan Peabody,  Cherokee County GA, left K9 Inka, 4-year-old  Belgium Malinois, in his hot patrol car where she died ~ suffering terribly in the process as death is neither swift nor kind. Peabody was so emotionally distraught he had to be treated at the hospital. Soon however the dark side emerged, the evil that embodied Dan Peabody  revealed who he really was, a serial dog killer. For not only did he allow K9 Inka to literally roast to death, but he executed his retired K9 Dale ~ a  yellow lab. When authorities excavated Peabody’s yard expecting to find K9 Dale’s remains,  they instead found a third dog who’d been shot in the back of the head. The dog, a female,  had been approximately 10 years old at the time of  death. Since the body exhumed was also a Belgium Malinois, authorities believe the dead female  may have been K9 Inka’s grandmother. Peabody by all accounts seemed “normal”. Heavily tattooed and muscular, he was the affable police lieutenant who, with K9 Inka, was assigned to the Cherokee County School District. As the evidence demonstrated, he was anything but normal. And he’s among a handful of police whose K9 partners have died as a direct result of their callous and irresponsible behaviors. I’ve previously written about K9 Totti  in PA and K9 Bak in OK.  K9 Bak was left in the hot car for over  37 hours without food, water, ventilation;  his handler never once checked on him. Instead, he smelled K9 Bak’s body on the way to work! Yet these are the same individuals we are taught to turn to for help? That their job is to protect us? I wouldn’t trust the care of a houseplant to these irresponsible officers whose negligence causes the deaths of excellent K9 officers in a most excruciating way. Just think about being locked in a hot car and fighting for every  breath until you couldn’t breathe anymore! Very heart wrenching and inexcusable!

 

inside-of-police-car-destroyed

The further I dig the more appalled, no make that outraged, I become. Not just with the police but the sick sadistic predators in society who are committing more and more hateful and egregious acts of cruelty against domestic animals. Raping a dog, sodomizing a puppy, strangling kittens with USB cords, stealing and  dismembering a family dog. Is this today’s norm? Has society really disintegrated to the point where people of all ages brutally abuse animals and think its acceptable? Or has it been going on all along but now the burgeoning of  social media brings the horror to our computers and tablets? In a recent case at Baylor University in TX,  Ishmael Zamora was given a 3 game suspension  by the football team after a video appeared online of him beating his young Rottweiler with a belt and kicking him to the point where the dog cried in pain. All because the poor Rottie had a pee accident.

At Missouri State College, yet another football player abused his neighbors dog Luca  whom he was entrusted to watch. Breck Ruddick admitted to “loosing his cool”, striking the 42# dog then allowing him to run away while bleeding. The owner put out an urgent plea on social media and a woman who found the injured and still bleeding dog quickly brought him home. Luca had been struck so hard that his jaw was shattered. Not broken ~ shattered! He required surgery, had 6 teeth removed and received numerous sutures.

In Florida a 20-year-old  UFC student severely abused his 17 week old puppy eventually causing the pups death. Luke Stribling  kicked and punched  his Shibu Inu puppy Julian, also for pee pee accidents. He was ticketed for cruelty in June yet the puppy remained with him until he finally killed him at 17 weeks old!! During the first veterinarian visit (for a broken leg) the vet said Julian had multiple fractures both old and new and that the pup literally shook from severe pain.  She asked Stribling why he didn’t seek medical care earlier for the pain Julian was in; Stribling said he didn’t know. Less than 2 weeks later Stribling  brought the dead puppy to a different vet who notified authorities. Investigators said an autopsy indicated the puppy had suffered severe internal injuries, including a hemorrhaged eye, liver and brain. An innocent puppy, a living sentient being. Tortured and killed for what? Urinating in the student’s apartment? Death at barely  4 months combined with the timeline of his injuries clearly show Julian was abused for most of his life since Stribling got the pup at 8 weeks old.

It takes a very sick and malicious person to do this to any living creature but it’s especially heinous when it’s done to a defenseless animal. Or a K9 officer. Animals look to us for guidance, love, nourishment and safety yet some humans are incapable of rendering the most basic of things.  We have to be their voice for they’re being abused, tortured and killed at an alarming rate. And many by youth who for all intent and purpose represent the leaders of tomorrow. I shudder to think how our country will thrive with evil at the helm.

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As to the title and header picture for this post? It refers to Deputy Tommy Willcox of Alachua County Sheriff’s Office in Alachua County  FL. I’ve been writing and tweeting about him for what seems forever. A brief synopsis about Deputy Willcox. On July 8, 2016 Willcox put his partner K9 Robbie, a 6½-year-old Belgian Malinois, into his squad car at the end of a shift and drove home.  He left K9 Robbie in the car while he went to meet his family at another location. Yes the car was equipped with a safety monitoring system to detect heat but ONLY works if the car is running!  Safety monitoring system aside, how does one “forget” their partner of SIX YEARS? On a day so hot (98) it almost broke a previous record set in 1991? In that type of heat a dog will begin to experience distress in a matter of minutes. K9 Officer Robbie was named after Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert J. Miller of Oviedo, FL who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2008. K9 Robbie however was simply murdered by his partner in America after faithfully serving the department for 6 years. Wilcox had another K9, Kozar, that he adopted when the dog retired. In 2008, Wilcox said Kozar was limping and going blind so this Floridian example of toxic waste had his buddy put on a bite sleeve,  engage Kozar in bite work while Wilcox took his weapon and shot Kozar to death. Wilcox said he considered it a humane form of euthanasia and Sheriff Sadie Darnell supported his decision because Wilcox grew up on on a pig farm .  Sheriff Darnell said “Wilcox had killed more than 100 animals – mostly pigs – that same way.”

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Who gets off in any way, shape or form by being cruel to animals? It is one of the most baffling and sickening psychological perversions I’ve ever encountered. I believe that penalties for the mistreatment of animals must be harsher and more strictly enforced. These people don’t belong among us. Some say, “They’re only animals…” Exactly. Abuse an animal, go to jail. For a long time! And Deputy Wilcox was at the top of my list because there was and still is no way I can condone or even undestand his culpability in the death of TWO dogs. So my campaign began. I stated a media firestorm, targeting not only the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and Alachua County but all the Florida media, the Chamber of Commerce, and Tourism Bureau. Let’s put it like this, if there was a organization I found them. I sent Tweets jointly to the Sheriff’s Office  and the County asking how long before Wilcox killed the next K9? I actually scheduled my tweets to ensure I didn’t forget. Finally on Oct  3, three months after K9 Robbie’s death, Deputy Wilcox was suspended for 6 days without pay and removed from the K-9 unit where he had been the lead trainer. While it won’t bring Robbie back nor give Kozar the end of life treatment he deserved,  it’s a small step forward ~ I’ll take it.

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.