Compliance with Drug Enforcement Act, Food and Drug Administration and the Animal Welfare Act: A Challenge for Natural Resource Agency Veterinarians
Historically, veterinary involvement in wildlife conservation began out of concerns over animal welfare, human safety, and restricted access to immobilizing drugs. There are three specific federal laws in the United States that require veterinary interaction with, or supervision of, biologists engaged in conservation work. These are the supply of scheduled substances for anesthesia under the Controlled Substances Act; enforced by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the “extra label” use of most prescription drugs in most wildlife species under the Animal Medical Drug Use and Control Act (AMDUCA); enforced by the Food and Drug Administration and the welfare and handling of some wildlife, which falls under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA); enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Fortunately or unfortunately, wildlife are of peripheral interest to each of these agencies or laws, and the responsibilities of the wildlife veterinarian are often unclear. In general, the agencies enforcing these laws are not extremely helpful or responsive to wildlife veterinarians asking for advice on how to comply with the law. Thus, these laws are a two-edged sword, they encourage the involvement of wildlife veterinarians, but they leave those veterinarians without clear procedures to follow or direction as to how to help their agency comply with the law.
In general, the government wildlife veterinarian is seldom able to be present to directly supervise all wildlife immobilizations, drug administrations, and research projects involving live animals, but may be held personally and professionally responsible for accidents or violations of the law. Biologists and the administrators of wildlife agencies want the veterinarian to facilitate their work, but not to complicate their activities. Thus, there is a natural tendency for tension to develop between the veterinarian and the wildlife biologist/agency. Dealing appropriately with this tension is a major challenge for wildlife veterinarians, both in the United States and worldwide.
On the positive side, the lack of standard operating procedures for drug use and dispensation and animal welfare allows the wildlife veterinarian the opportunity to develop those policies and procedures. We have developed a set of draft policies to allow wildlife veterinarians employed by government agencies to meet the requirements of the law in these three areas, hopefully to both improve professionalism and facilitate the legitimate work of wildlife agencies, while minimizing the risk of accidents and/or personal or legal censure. In brief, drugs are obtained by the veterinarian for the wildlife agency and dispensed through an organized system to biologists. Biologists must record each use of drugs, report regularly to the veterinarian, and all drugs must be accounted for. Wildlife projects that may fall under the AWA are reviewed by an agency institutional animal care and use committee, similar to those used by universities. Regular formal training in animal capture, legal considerations, pharmacology, emergency procedures, animal welfare and care are offered. Although the length and scope of these draft policies greatly exceed what can be presented in these proceedings, they are available for review and comment on an Internet web page at www.absc.usgs.gov/research/vet. Organized bodies of wildlife veterinarians should consider endorsing these draft policies in concept and/or developing their own draft policies. We must hang together or we may hang separately.