Human misuse of veterinary drugs: The dangers of using animal drugs

Learn about the dangers of human misuse of veterinary drugs. Find out how these drugs are regulated and understand the risks associated with them.

Ophelia team
Horse and common veterinary drugs
Icon of shield with check mark inside
Fact checked by
Arthur Robin Williams, MD

Though veterinary drugs are meant for animals, people sometimes misuse them, either for medical or recreational purposes. Human misuse of veterinary drugs is dangerous and can lead to grave complications, such as poisoning and overdoses. It might sound strange, but there are a lot of different ways these potent medications can end up in the wrong hands.

How are veterinary drugs regulated?

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) makes and enforces regulations on drugs deemed addictive or dangerous, including animal drugs. Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), some of the DEA-controlled substances that clinical veterinary practices may use include:

  • Euthanasia solution
  • Anesthetics (pentobarbital, ketamine, diazepam, and sodium thiopental)
  • Anabolic steroids (testosterone and boldenone)
  • Certain pain medications (buprenorphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl)

To purchase, prescribe, or administer any controlled substances, veterinarians need to register with the DEA; in some states, they also need to register with a more local agency. The DEA holds veterinarians responsible for securing the controlled substances in their inventory. While on the premises, veterinarians must keep controlled substances locked in a secure storage container to prevent unauthorized access.

If veterinarians fail to comply with the DEA regulations on veterinary drugs, they may have to forfeit their agency registration, lose their veterinary medicine license, and pay significant fines. The DEA conducts audits and inspections to monitor veterinary compliance with these laws. 

Veterinary drugs are also subject to regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Licensed veterinarians can only dispense prescription animal drugs as part of their professional practice within valid veterinarian-client-patient relationships. Additional state laws may govern the dispensing of animal drugs. 

How do people get veterinary drugs?

Given all these regulations, it’s difficult to access veterinary drugs for improper use. But it’s not impossible. If a clinic is understaffed, they may not sufficiently track controlled substances in their inventories, making it easier for people to gain access to them. In some cases, veterinarians abuse the controlled substances themselves or have staff members who wrongly divert animal drugs. 

Break-ins at veterinary clinics to steal prescription medications aren’t unheard of, either. Proper storage practices with controlled substances should deter and thwart most such incidents, but they can still happen. Re-examining inventory stocking and security practices to meet the high standards set by the DEA is essential. 

Another possibility is pet owners stealing their pet’s medicine to misuse the controlled substances. 13 percent of veterinarians were aware of at least one pet owner who had injured their animal or faked an illness to falsely obtain animal drugs.  

Which animal drugs do people misuse?

So why do people go through all the trouble to acquire veterinary drugs? The main reason people use animal drugs is to get high—and these medications can be very powerful. 

Xylazine, for example, is a veterinary drug used as a muscle relaxant and sedative for animals. It is not intended for human use, yet people misuse ​​xylazine as a recreational drug alongside other drugs like fentanyl. Xylazine can enhance the effects of fentanyl and make them last longer. Since it is a tranquilizer, using the drug often leads to prolonged unconsciousness and increases the risks associated with opioid overdoses. 

Other commonly abused animal drugs include:

  • Fentanyl: Fentanyl is a regulated opioid veterinarians use to treat pain in animals. In human use, fentanyl has a high risk of dependence and contributes to the rise of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids.
  • Ketamine: This dissociative, hypnotic drug is used to treat animals’ anxiety and pain. People misuse veterinary ketamine as a hallucinogenic or date rape drug
  • Tramadol: Tramadol is a strong painkiller available for both human and animal use. Because you need a prescription to get tramadol, some pet owners may abuse tramadol prescriptions for their pets to use the drug recreationally. 

Addressing dependency on veterinary drugs

No matter where they come from, opioids have tremendous addiction potential. But help is available on your terms and without judgment. Ophelia’s personalized medication-assisted treatment (MAT) program uses a buprenorphine-naloxone protocol to help manage cravings and prevent overdoses. Our telehealth services are available in a growing number of states and are covered by an expanding list of insurance providers, including Medicaid.


Treatment that works is right at your fingertips.

Get started