Congress is debating how to lower the cost of medicine for people. At the same time, the Food and Drug Administration is moving the opposite direction concerning medicine for pets. A proposed new policy, if approved, would more than quadruple prices.

Marcy Bliss

These changes would impact more than 2,700 Colorado veterinarians, and the health of thousands of pets in the state.

Threatening to raise costs of medications to care for our beloved animals highlights a terrible reality: when pet owners come into a veterinary clinic, some are forced to decide if they can even afford their pet’s care.

Many animals are surrendered to an already overloaded shelter system. Even worse, some owners are forced to put their pet down due to the cost of medications, a phenomena called “financial euthanasia.”

A policy the FDA is deliberating would do serious harm to animal health by preventing a category of pharmacies known as “compounding pharmacies” and veterinarians from using the decades-long practice they have relied on to create compounded medications for animal care and treatments. This widely accepted practice in animal health begins with bulk drug substances to create a medication tailored to the specific needs of an individual pet.

Pets come in all kinds, shapes and sizes, so pharmacists and veterinarians use this method to formulate dose amounts that are effective and safe, add flavorings that pets actually will eat, and put medications into the appropriate form for use, such as a pill, liquid, or cream.

The FDA proposal would limit the use of drugs derived from bulk substances, forcing veterinary pharmacists to obtain the necessary active ingredients through finished drug products — the kind designed and priced for people with insurance coverage.

Starting with pricey finished goods, rather than FDA-registered, pure bulk ingredients, would drive up the cost to veterinarians, and to their patients.

Pets are a wonderful source of companionship and love for people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes. For many of us, our pets are members of the family, and they provide emotional support during difficult times, including this pandemic. The FDA could take that away for many by making pet ownership unaffordable.

According to a national survey of pet owners, 45% of lower-income respondents reported that the main reason their pets don’t visit a vet each year is because they can’t afford it. This percentage will only go up under the FDA proposal, and low-income families and senior citizens on fixed incomes could be especially impacted. This includes more than 160,000 households in Colorado that were considered extremely low-income in 2020, and almost 1 million seniors in the state.

Animal shelters and zoos will bear the brunt of these costs as well. Given the fact that many of these entities are nonprofit organizations, they already face tight budget constraints.

The sharp rise in pet surrenders coming out of the pandemic, coupled with higher costs of pet medications, would put even more strain on these organizations. The Colorado Department of Agriculture reported that more than 165,000 pets were surrendered to Colorado animal shelters last year alone. When animal shelters cannot afford to care for surrendered pets, they must make the same painful choice and decide whether they must put the animal down due to cost.

Veterinary professionals are strongly against any changes. In a recent survey, 99% of more than 2,000 veterinarian respondents reported that having access to compounded medications is important to their pet patients’ health.

Why? Because veterinarians don’t just operate as primary-care providers, they are often also our pet’s emergency-care providers. The FDA’s proposal would limit the types and amount of medications veterinary professionals could keep in stock for their day-to-day practice. The limited compounded medications still permitted, for use in emergency situations, would quadruple in price.

Can you imagine rushing your furry companion to the vet, only to find out that they don’t have the medications to save your pet?

Last year alone, our pharmacy filled nearly 30,000 prescriptions for pets in Colorado. Access to affordable compounded drugs is a life-or-death matter in animal health.

The FDA is clearly barking up the wrong tree.

Now that the Senate has endorsed Dr. Robert Califf’s appointment to FDA Commissioner, we urge the Colorado congressional delegation to work with the FDA to lower the cost of prescription drug prices for pet owners, not raise them. 

Marcy Bliss is CEO of Wedgewood Pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy with operations in Colorado that specializes in animal health.

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