ATLANTA — There is a frightening new twist in the opioid epidemic.
With doctors more skeptical of prescribing pain medication, Channel 2’s Tom Regan discovered some addicts are abusing their pets to score drugs.
"We're trained to look for signs of abuse," Buckhead veterinarian Dr. Duffy Jones said.
Jones said he and his staff members at Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital take a critical look at injured dogs and, increasingly, at the behavior of their owners.
"Looking for these types of behaviors where injuries to pets don't really match up with how the owner describes what happened," Jones said.
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That's because dogs are becoming helpless victims in the opioid crisis as addicts turn to Tramadol. Tramadol is a painkiller commonly prescribed by veterinarians.
"We are very careful about that drug. Where we dispense it, why we're dispensing it and how often people can refill it,” Jones said.
Tramadol is used to treat moderate to severe pain in humans and pets.
In a raid near Portland, Oregon, last year, authorities seized 100,000 Tramadol pills and rescued over a dozen dogs that were living in squalor. Police suspect those involved may have been distributing the drug.
In Elizabethtown, Kentucky, police arrested Heather Pereria for maiming her dog to score Tramadol from animal hospitals.
"Heather had taken her dog to various places trying to get pain medication for the dog," Virgil Willoughby, with the Elizabethtown Police Department, told Regan.
Willoughby said Pereira went "doggie doctor shopping" after slicing her golden retriever, Alice, with a double-edged razor.
Vets at one animal hospital gave her Tramadol for the dog. Then she returned days later claiming her child had thrown the pills in the toilet, but police say Pereira has no children.
"So they gave an additional x number of pills and she leaves," Willoughby said.
But this wasn't the first time Pereira showed up with cuts on Alice. An alert vet at the hospital noticed the injury was nearly identical to two other wounds the dog had suffered weeks earlier. That's when the vet called police.
Regan acquired a videotaped interrogation of Pereira by police. At first, Pereira only admitted to cutting her dog one time.
"Heather, I just want to know how your dog really got hurt. I know it was deliberate. The cuts are pretty much artificially made," one police investigator asked.
"The one today, I swear on my family's life, I did not do that today," Pereira said.
Another investigator pressed Pereira for an explanation.
"How could you cut that dog?" the investigator asked.
"I feel like (expletive) for it," Pereira tearfully answered.
"But you got away with it. You got your Tramadol. Then you cut it again. Then you're looking for some more," the investigator continued.
After repeatedly denying the other two razor cuts, she confessed.
"I done them," Pereira said.
"With the same razor?" the investigator asked.
"Different razors. They were clean but I threw them away afterward," Pereira said while crying.
"Are you hooked on that stuff that bad?" asked the officer.
"I am but I'm not," Pereira said.
Following her confession, Pereria pleaded guilty to fraud and animal torture charges. She was sentenced to four years in prison. She has since been released.
Her dog, Alice, fully recovered from the injuries and now has a new owner.
"Someone at E-town Hospital adopted the pet, and (Alice) is living happily on a 10-acre farm," Willoughby told Regan.
Cox Media Group