Strict Drug Law Puts Vets in Jam
Published: April 18, 2012 (Issue # 1704)
MOSCOW — After eight years of fighting a strict law that virtually bans an anesthetic essential for their work, Russia’s veterinarians say they have nearly reached the end of their tether.
Ketamine has long been used for operating on animals throughout the world, but when it came in vogue as a party drug in the late 1990s, Russia’s response was to ban the substance entirely in 2003. Outcry among vets ensued, and it was reinstated for veterinary use in 2004, but under such strict conditions that it is almost impossible to obtain.
“It was technically legalized but in reality rejected. In the last eight years, only 5 percent of vets have obtained licenses to be able to use it,” says Irina Novozhilova, president of VITA, an animal rights group. “I thought when it all started that it would be sorted out very fast because you can’t just ban a profession. To work without anesthesia is to cut animals when they are conscious.”
Oleg Aristov, who runs a veterinary clinic in St. Petersburg, said the alternatives are heartbreaking.
“It is really painful for your pets to undergo operations [without ketamine],” Aristov said. “It hurts them.”
This has left vets between a rock and a hard place, with two contradictory laws condemning them whichever way they turn.
“If a vet uses ketamine, that is a violation of Article 228 for the distribution of narcotics, whereas if they operate on conscious animals, it is a violation of Article 245 for cruelty to animals. So a vet is faced with the choice of which law to break,” Novozhilova said.
In a worse case scenario, under the current laws, vets face a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison just for doing their work. But they are left with few options.
“The best medicines are believed to be opiates, but they are completely banned in Russia, so ketamine is our only choice,” Novozhilova added. “Measures other than ketamine absolutely do not give the desired effect.”
Despite the law, vets have continued to use ketamine without a license for the past eight years, but the situation was thrown into turmoil once again in March, when Alexander Shpak of St. Petersburg was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in a penal colony.
He was caught selling ketamine by an undercover agent from the Federal Drug Control Service, who befriended him by pretending to be a vet. The agent eventually persuaded Shpak to sell him the drug, claiming it was needed for an urgent operation.
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