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Opioids and cannabinoids have received a lot of attention from the media and health authorities in recent years.
The dangers of opioids remain high despite the efforts of health officials, medical professionals, politicians and scientists who have focused on combating addiction and substance abuse. In 2019 alone, there were more than 49,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States.
In addition, changing attitudes towards cannabis and global trends in cannabis legalization have improved access to a wide variety of cannabis-based products, especially edibles, which pose additional hazards as the public may be unfamiliar with their safe use.
Little has been published about how changing patterns of drug use have affected vulnerable populations who may be accidentally exposed to these products, such as children and pets.
Until recently, claims that dogs are poisoned from accidental ingestion of recreational drugs were only supported by anecdotal evidence from pet owners and veterinarians. Our recent research highlights the potential effects of opioid and cannabinoid use patterns in humans on domestic dogs.
Is grass harmful to dogs?
Using data from reported calls to the Animal Poison Control Center – managed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – our research provides preliminary evidence that both human-scale factors and canine traits can put a dog at risk Opioid or. affect cannabinoid poisoning.
Community-level factors reflect the level or nature of drug use in a particular setting, while canine-level factors such as breed and size affect an animal’s likelihood of exposure or the health effects of a particular exposure.
We found that in the United States, the risk of opioid poisoning in dogs reported to the APCC increases as opioid prescribing rates go up in a county. In terms of the canine-level traits, the risk of reported opioid poisoning is higher for these type of dogs:
- Not neutered dogs
- Younger dogs or puppies
- Smaller dogs
Dogs are naturally curious and smaller breeds are more prone to poisoning. Shutterstock
For cannabis, our results suggest that lower legal penalties for cannabis use and possession are associated with an increased risk of dog poisoning with cannabinoid products.
The likelihood of these calls was also higher in counties with a higher percentage of people living in urban settings and where the income differentials were greater. The dogs’ characteristics also influenced these calls, with reports of cannabinoid poisoning being higher for:
- Not neutered dogs
- Dogs that are smaller than average
For both opioids and cannabinoids, veterinarians were more likely to call the APCC and seek advice about a poisoning event. This may reflect public fear of reporting this poisoning due to social stigma and legal concerns related to illicit drugs.
Finally, we found that opioid poisoning in dogs decreased during the study period – between 2005 and 2014. This could suggest that opioid poisoning in dogs is more related to prescription opioids than to illegally obtained opioids; the overall rate of opioids prescribed has decreased, while the use of illegally obtained opioids such as heroin has apparently increased.
However, reports of cannabinoid poisoning increased between 2009 and 2014, suggesting that the problem may worsen for the dog population.
How to protect dogs
These studies are the first to quantify the spillover effects of drug use patterns in humans on pet poisoning. Still, there is still a lot to be done. Cannabis and opioid poisoning from pets can be traumatic to both dogs and their owners, but we don’t have a clear picture of the full extent of the problem from underreporting.
Although we have identified some socio-economic factors at the county level, we do not know if these traits are shared by dog owners.
Our research used a large pre-existing database, but other studies have yet to be done to support our results. Education is likely to play an important role in preventing these poisoning events, but the appropriate medium, audiences and messages have yet to be explored.
The aim of this research is not to denigrate those who use drugs, to justify whether or not these drugs should be legal, or even how they should be controlled. An epidemiological lens is to be used to determine if dogs are affected by human decisions and conditions related to drug use.
Health management and policy decisions related to what appears to be an exclusively human health problem can have an impact on animal populations.
Awareness of the risk to pets can ensure dog owners safely manage the storage and use of their opioid and cannabinoid products
In drug policy terms, the shift away from law enforcement to a focus on public health is likely to have tremendous benefits in the treatment of drug addiction.
The recent popularity of the One Health Framework for studying the relationships between human, animal and environmental health could reveal other unexpected links. Education and guidelines promoting the safe use, storage and disposal of cannabis and opioid products should address a wide range of vulnerable populations, including pets.
For the public, the main message of our research is that it is important for people to be aware of the drugs around them. Accidental exposures to pets and other vulnerable populations, including children, are preventable.
Consumers of legally or illegally purchased recreational drugs are responsible for the proper storage and disposal of these products. With education we can prevent these tragic poisoning events.
This article was originally published on The Conversation by Mohammad Howard-Azzeh and David Pearl at the University of Guelph. Read the original article here.