The New Jersey opioid epidemic has taken a twisted new turn.

Some addicts looking to get high are turning to their pets to get prescription pain medication.

“There are a number of drugs that are frequently used to treat pain in humans that are also used in veterinary medicine, including several controlled dangerous substances that are regulated,” said Dr. Peter Falk, a representative of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association and a doctor at the Ocean County Veterinary Hospital

He explained some dogs, like people, have chronic medical problems like osteoarthritis, and they benefit from pain meds. He explained a common drug given to dogs for pain is tramadol, which is similar to oxycontin.

“We are aware that some people are using their pet’s medication. They may even go to multiple veterinarians and then use the medication,” he said.

New Jersey's doctors are already under scrutiny as state officials try to stem the growing heroin epidemic by limiting prescription pain medication, which is seen as a gateway to dangerous opioids sold on the street.

Gov. Chris Christie's administration this year implemented new regulations that limit initial pain pill subscriptions to a five-day supply.

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“There can be several indications someone is using their pet's pain pills. They’re calling two weeks later and they want a refill, or they say my kid flushed it down the toilet by accident, or I’m going on a trip I need more,” said Falk.

“If we suspect that people are using it, we may address that directly with them, or we may limit the supply with no refills.”

He said many vets are aware of this situation, but seminars are now being given to educate all animal doctors and their staff.

And because this is becoming a significant problem, “there are other drugs that we may use that are not controlled substances that may help with pain.”

“We’re trying to deal with this issue while not sacrificing the well-being of the pet,” he said.

Falk noted a proposal to create a statewide database to keep track of pet prescriptions sounds like it might be helpful, but it might cause problems as well.

“Sometimes the person abusing the drugs may be a different family member and whoever brings in the dog may not even have that awareness, so it gets very complicated,” he said.

He noted veterinarians are routinely audited by the Drug Enforcement Agency, so “we have to be very, very careful how we handle these medications.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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