A number of recent reports (Imrie, 2022) on veterinary medicines published across the sector have highlighted a worrying trend of pet owners turning to “black market” drugs as the cost of living crisis continues.
What is the role of vets and vet nurses?
Aside from the obvious risks to animals in owners administering potentially dangerous substances, the use of “black market” medicines can place vets in an awkward position vis-à-vis their clients. It is always difficult to sell a product that is, or is perceived to be, more expensive than the consumer can purchase elsewhere. Moreover, the professional codes for vets and vet nurses require them to be open and honest with clients. Vets and vet nurses must be respectful of client needs and requirements, while providing independent and impartial advice and informing clients of any conflict of interest.
How can you support clients?
While vets, vet nurses and consumer-facing staff must not indulge in scare tactics or mislead clients, they should be able to educate their clients in the hope of dissuading them from buying illegal medicines. Although vets and nurses may be familiar with the legal restrictions placed on retail sales of veterinary medicines, other staff in their practices may be unaware. This could mean an opportunity is lost to educate clients.
Although vets and nurses may be familiar with the legal restrictions placed on retail sales of veterinary medicines, other staff in their practices may be unaware. This could mean an opportunity is lost to educate clients
All staff in a veterinary practice, from vet to receptionist, should be able to explain:
- There are strict rules about the sale of veterinary medicines which exist to protect animals
- Authentic veterinary medicines go through rigorous procedures to ensure they are safe before being authorised for sale
- There is a specialist body which is solely responsible for regulating veterinary medicines – the Veterinary Medicines Directorate
- Only a vet, pharmacist or suitably qualified person can sell veterinary medicines
- Veterinary medicines can only be sold from registered or approved premises located within the United Kingdom
- Buying drugs from the vet who has examined an animal is the same as any other situation in which a customer buys both services and products from the same person – it means any complaint can be more easily dealt with
- For all these reasons, in-person sales may be preferable
If the client is still interested in buying online, all staff should explain:
- It is possible to buy prescription drugs online from authorised retailers
- There is a voluntary scheme – the Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme – run by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to which responsible retailers sign up
- Those registered internet retailers must carefully follow strict procedures about the drugs they dispense and keep detailed records
- Retailers are obliged to provide standard information on their websites, such as a physical address, the name of the responsible qualified person who runs the retail business, a complaints procedure and a logo which allows consumers to identify the retailer is signed up to the Accredited Internet Retailer Scheme
- It is also possible for the consumer to check a list of accredited retailers with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate
- Consumers who are determined to buy online should only buy from registered retailers
While it may seem counter-intuitive to appear to be referring customers to online retailers, in fact veterinary practices may benefit in goodwill from their clients
Staff can then explain that, for all these reasons, their practice is urging its customers not to buy cheap drugs dispatched from abroad. The very fact that it is sent into the UK from abroad is a red flag broadcasting that it is not legal and therefore not trusted to be effective or even safe for their pet.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to appear to be referring customers to online retailers, in fact veterinary practices may benefit in goodwill from their clients recognising that they are being honest and impartial, and acting in the best interests of their pets.
If just one pet is saved from unsafe “black market” drugs by these explanations, even if it means the lost sale of the practice’s own products, vets, nurses and veterinary staff will, at least, have discharged their own professional obligations.