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Strict Drug Law Puts Vets in Jam

Published: April 18, 2012 (Issue # 1704)



  • Alexander Shpak faces 8 1/2 years in jail for selling ketamine to an agent.
    Photo: VKONTAKTE.RU

MOSCOW After eight years offighting astrict law that virtually bans ananesthetic essential fortheir work, Russias veterinarians say they have nearly reached theend oftheir tether.

Ketamine has long been used foroperating onanimals throughout theworld, but when it came invogue as aparty drug inthe late 1990s, Russias response was toban thesubstance entirely in2003. Outcry among vets ensued, andit was reinstated forveterinary use in2004, but under such strict conditions that it is almost impossible toobtain.

It was technically legalized but inreality rejected. Inthe last eight years, only 5 percent ofvets have obtained licenses tobe able touse it, says Irina Novozhilova, president ofVITA, ananimal rights group. I thought when it all started that it would be sorted out very fast because you cant just ban aprofession. Towork without anesthesia is tocut animals when they are conscious.

Oleg Aristov, who runs aveterinary clinic inSt. Petersburg, said thealternatives are heartbreaking.

It is really painful foryour pets toundergo operations [without ketamine], Aristov said. It hurts them.

This has left vets between arock anda hard place, with two contradictory laws condemning them whichever way they turn.

If avet uses ketamine, that is aviolation ofArticle 228 forthe distribution ofnarcotics, whereas if they operate onconscious animals, it is aviolation ofArticle 245 forcruelty toanimals. So avet is faced with thechoice ofwhich law tobreak, Novozhilova said.

Ina worse case scenario, under thecurrent laws, vets face apossible sentence ofup to20 years inprison just fordoing their work. But they are left with few options.

The best medicines are believed tobe opiates, but they are completely banned inRussia, so ketamine is our only choice, Novozhilova added. Measures other than ketamine absolutely do not give thedesired effect.

Despite thelaw, vets have continued touse ketamine without alicense forthe past eight years, but thesituation was thrown intoturmoil once again inMarch, when Alexander Shpak ofSt. Petersburg was sentenced to8 1/2 years ina penal colony.

He was caught selling ketamine byan undercover agent fromthe Federal Drug Control Service, who befriended him bypretending tobe avet. Theagent eventually persuaded Shpak tosell him thedrug, claiming it was needed foran urgent operation.

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