The Senate’s version of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act (S. 1171) passed without amendment by unanimous consent Jan. 8. The legislation has been a top priority for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Its Governmental Relations Division has been working on behalf of members, especially mobile practitioners, who say they have been contacted by U.S. Drug Enforcement Association (DEA) field officers concerning compliance with the Controlled Substances Act. The AVMA said in a release Jan. 9 that the passage of the bill in the Senate brings veterinarians closer to a commonsense resolution that will allow them to provide pain management, anesthesia or euthanasia to patients beyond their clinics.
“The Senate’s action proves that our nation’s leaders are listening to the veterinary profession and are diligently working to ensure that animals in all settings continue to receive the best quality care,” says Clark Fobian, DVM, president of the AVMA. “To be a veterinarian, you must be willing to go to your patients when they cannot come to you, and this means being able to bring all of the vital medications you need in your medical bag. We are pleased that the Senate has taken action to fix a loophole in federal regulation, which has concerned veterinarians over the past few years and urge the U.S. House to swiftly follow suit.”
The bill should have the support it needs to persevere in the House. U.S. House Veterinary Medicine Caucus members Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) introduced a similar version of the bill in the House last spring. The bill (H.R. 1528) has nearly 150 cosponsors.
“I applaud this victory for veterinarians and thank Senators Moran and King for their hard work,” Yoho says. “As a large animal veterinarian, I can tell you that the practice of veterinary medicine doesn’t always take place in an office. This legislation allows the flexibility needed for veterinarians to care for their patients wherever the call may be. I look forward to working with Representative Schrader on moving this commonsense legislation with the same broad support in the House of Representatives.”
But AVMA Governmental Relations Director Mark Lutschaunig, VMD, MBA, knows it is a waiting game to see how the bill will actually progress. “As for time frame—we know that Congress has a pretty full agenda this year with the Farm Bill, debt ceiling, appropriations, etc., in the next few weeks, but we’d like to see the House take up H.R. 1528 this year,” Lutschaunig says. “We feel that we have many allies in the House—including our two veterinarians in Congress, Reps. Schrader and Yoho—who can help move this bill forward. We are looking for them to rally the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus and their colleagues in support of moving this bill as quickly as possible.”
Lutschaunig says there is interest in including the language of the bill in the Farm Bill, which Congress is expected to take up shortly. “If that effort is not fruitful, then we will pursue passage through other means,” he says. “It is quite possible that with continued support in the House, the bill could be passed by unanimous consent as it did in the Senate.”
For many, time is of the essence as DEA field agents continue to contact veterinarians about Controlled Substances Act compliance. Since November 2009, the DEA has informed the veterinary profession that the CSA does not permit registrants to take controlled substances beyond their registered locations, such as a clinic or home in a veterinarian’s case. The AMVA says this narrow interpretation of the law is problematic for those veterinarians who care for animals on farms, in the wild, at a client’s home or in any other mobile setting, and also for those who live on a state border, therefore providing care in two states, but only having registered in one state. The DEA has indicated that without a legislative change to the law, veterinarians would be in violation of the CSA.
The AVMA and Rep. Schrader reached out to the DEA to resolve the issue without legislation, but the DEA has been unwilling. In fact, Lutschaunig wrote to the DEA Dec. 17 to request a meeting with the Office of Diversion Control to discuss continued ambiguity with existing law and conflicting messages from DEA headquarters and its field offices. Governmental Relations spokeswoman Victoria Broehm told dvm360 the DEA thanked them for the request and they would get back to them. The AVMA requested a meeting in June 2013 as well. It went unfulfilled.
Unable to progress with the DEA, AVMA entered a year-long advocacy campaign to gain support for legislation. Its members have sent more than 24,000 letters to Congress this year in support of the Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act, and the bill has the support of more than 130 veterinary medical and other organizations.