Blog: After 2.5 years studying pet meds market, FTC calls ... drumroll ... for more study

Blog: After 2.5 years studying pet meds market, FTC calls ... drumroll ... for more study

Report presents misguided conclusions but does not demand federal legislation mandating veterinary prescriptions.
May 28, 2015

Report presents misguided conclusions but does not demand federal legislation mandating veterinary prescriptions.

On May 27 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finally issued its report on pet medications stemming from its Oct. 4, 2012, workshop on the topic in Washington, D.C. Industry observers and participants (including this blogger) have been waiting for 30-plus months to hear what the FTC had to say, and now we know. I will write about this flawed report in more depth in coming weeks, but let me set the stage for dvm360 readers at the grass-tops level, not down in the policy weeds.

First and foremost, the FTC did not come out with guns blazing and call for federal legislation. This had to disappoint critics of the veterinary profession and those lobbying for the latest versions of bills in Congress demanding portable prescriptions for every veterinary drug prescribed. These bills have generated virtually no interest in the U.S. House or Senate since they were first introduced back in 2010, and their advocates keenly waited for an FTC report that could pump some fuel into the legislative engine. That did not happen with this report.

The FTC concluded in a measured manner with a call for more study of many of the subjects raised in the original workshop and written submissions to the FTC. These are not surprising or alarming topics, and there may or may not be interest in continued study. The bottom line regarding such studies in my view is that there never will be sufficient data for one side to convince the other, so why not let the marketplace dictate outcomes—as it seems to be doing on its own right now?

Second, the tone of the extensive narrative and commentary in the report plainly reflects the views of FTC staff, which were made known to participants in advance of the October 2012 workshop. I suppose this should not surprise anyone. Despite overwhelming evidence that veterinarians do provide prescriptions upon request, the report repeatedly refers to anecdotal evidence to the contrary. An impression is created that this is a genuine issue when it was made clear that the vast majority of veterinarians follow this commonsense practice.

The report also downplays the compendium of evidence, most prominently assembled and presented by the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association, that pharmacists often mishandle veterinary prescriptions due to a lack of training and understanding of the fundamental differences between how small animals and humans interact with pharmaceuticals.

On this latter point, the report downplays evidence—which was not rebutted during the workshop—that pharmacy schools simply do not have the time, and so far the inclination, to allocate meaningful space in the curriculum to small-animal pharmacological training. This is the crux of this particular issue—namely, that if you are not trained to deal with small animal reactions to medications, why would we assume that you will make the right decision in the best medical interest of the pet?

So we now enter a two- to six-month phase of debate and reaction to this report. Kudos to the FTC for pulling the information together, and my disagreement with the staff’s characterizations and conclusions does not detract from the value of raising the policy issues. However, advocates of federal pet medications legislation must be careful to claim that this report is a manifesto for their ill-advised reforms. That’s simply not true.

Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.