FTC releases report on consumer protection issues within pet meds industry

DocWPrescription-300After more than two years of analysis, the Federal Trade Commission published a much-awaited report on the pet medications industry. The FTC found that veterinarians will continue to face increasing competition from non-veterinary retailers on pet medication sales.

As you may recall, the FTC brought together a number of stakeholders, including the AVMA and our member veterinarians, for a public workshop in October 2012 to examine consumer protection issues within the pet medications industry. That workshop, along with more than 700 written comments, informed the agency’s report released yesterday.

With nearly $7.6 billion spent in 2013 on prescription and over-the-counter medications for dogs and cats, the agency aimed to answer three specific questions about the pet medications industry:

  • To what extent, if any, is competition in the pet medications industry adversely affected by limited consumer knowledge of and access to “portable prescriptions” (i.e. written prescriptions that can be filled outside of a veterinary clinic)?
  • To what extent, if any, is competition in the pet medications industry adversely affected by manufacturer distribution practices that restrict non-veterinary retailers’ access to pet medications?
  • To the extent that competition in the pet medications industry may be adversely affected by current industry practices, are there less restrictive approaches that could be used to enhance competition without compromising animal health and safety?

Among the findings in the report, the FTC staff believes that improved consumer access to prescriptions would likely be beneficial to consumers, but does not show any evidence that veterinarians are withholding written prescriptions from their clients. The executive summary states:

“Staff concluded that portability likely benefits consumers, and therefore generally supports policies that would increase consumer awareness of the availability of portable prescriptions and veterinary release of prescriptions to consumers. Consumers could then choose whether to purchase pet medications from their veterinarian or an alternative retail outlet. More information is necessary, however, to determine the extent to which consumers are aware of their ability to receive portable prescriptions and the extent to which veterinarians refuse to provide portable prescriptions to their clients. Likewise, more information is needed to determine the full economic impact of greater prescription portability.”

The report also finds that exclusive distribution and exclusive dealing practices by pet medication manufacturers could come under increasing competitive pressure in the marketplace and may be difficult to sustain, particularly if prescriptions become even more widely requested by clients, and retail pharmacies continue to compete to fill them. The FTC staff said that a number of issues could benefit from further investigation, including: the pricing of pet medications across different channels of distribution; the rate of errors in pet medication dispensing by retail pharmacists and veterinarians; the need for and impact of automatic prescription release requirements; and details regarding the secondary distribution system for pet medications.

The report says what many of us have known for a while—that the pet medications industry is evolving. As consumers are presented with more choices of where to fill their pet’s medications, we, as veterinarians, hope that the health and welfare of our animal patients is central to that decision. We acknowledge, however, that more work needs to be done to improve the lines of communication and education between animal and human pharmacists, and the AVMA has been leading that dialogue on this important issue so we can ensure that our animal patients are not only given the right doses of the right medications, but that the medicine they are receiving is safe.

We understand that cost is an important factor when it comes to caring for pets and encourage pet owners to talk with their veterinarians about any concerns they may have so that together they can determine the best treatment options. That said, the AVMA continues to believe that a legislative mandate (S. 1200) on veterinarians to provide written prescriptions for every prescription for a companion animal, whether or not the client needs or requests it, is burdensome and unnecessary. The AVMA’s Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics and its guide on Client Requests for Prescriptions already encourages veterinarians to write prescriptions when asked by a client, and due to the impressive advocacy work by many state veterinary medical associations, 35 states now have similar laws or policies.

The AVMA would like to thank those of our members who have been engaged with us on this issue by participating in the FTC’s 2012 workshop, submitting comments, and spreading the word within your state veterinary medical associations and other social channels. Together, we have been able to ensure that the commission hears and understands how changes in the pet medications industry present new challenges that can impact animal health and welfare and veterinary small businesses.

For more information, see the FTC’s press release and download the full report, “Competition in the Pet Medications Industry: Prescription Portability and Distribution Practices.” Feel free to let us know your thoughts by commenting on AVMA’s blog below or you can comment directly on FTC’s website here.

8 thoughts on “FTC releases report on consumer protection issues within pet meds industry

  1. Another burdensome, unnecessary law. Doesn’t the FTC have some real work? Could you please list the companies lobbying for this legislation?

  2. Medical Doctors just ask where you want the Rx sent and email it, and at Urgent Care you can have some Rx’s filled there. Why should DVM’s have to give a piece of paper – they should just have to ask where you want it filled, including the in house pharmacy as a choice, and email OR give a paper Rx if requested.

  3. I believe that the overall goal of improving the availability of medications and supplies for non-human animals is laudable. Towards this goal, it should be legally incumbent upon any pharmacy that purports to fill such prescriptions to have available an adequate supply of such items on hand at all times; so that clients will not need to delay or defer the administration of essential medications to our patients. If we, as veterinarians, are required to provide written prescriptions for all medicines, it would seem proper that pharmacies should be required to fill all of these prescriptions accurately with the exact medicine as prescribed and within a time frame comparable to that of medicines dispensed at veterinary facilities. If we are required to provide the prescriptions without charge, the pharmacies should be ready to provide enhanced delivery, such as express mail or courier service, when necessary, without additional cost to the client. This reciprocity of obligations, such as I describe above, will not only help our patients receive their needed medicines promptly and precisely, it will help to mitigate the burdensome overhead cost to veterinarians of maintaining the large variety of materials and dosage forms now needed at veterinary clinics and other offices for dispensing. It will also help us to “tailor” dosages and dosage forms to fit the many sizes and varieties of patients we see.

  4. With the increased sales of pet medications sold at pharmacies with pharmacists trained only in human pharmacology comes the potential for consumer risk due to a lack of knowledge in veterinary products and pharmacology. The FTC should be made aware that this is a consideration that should not be overlooked before making changes that will create more problem than it solves. The FTC should mandate that all pharmacies that sell pet medications have a veterinary trained pharmacist on the staff before they mandate that veterinarians send more clients throug their doors. The next question they need to consider is where are we going to get the veterinary trained pharmacisit? If they do not want to deal with this they should leave veterinary pharmacy in the hands of the trained professionals – the veterinarians.

  5. I agree that written notification in the reception area or even in the exam rooms should be enough. Scripts take a great deal of time to write and even though I do offer my clients this option, they almost always elect to get the product from me. I offer not only convenience but in most cases cost savings. I can never guarantee what a human pharmacy will charge for a product. I also, have seen horrible errors made when prescriptions are written or called into a human pharmacy My clients also frequently get the wrong information from the pharmacist because they are not familiar with our uses or dosages of drugs.
    This law would just end up costing the owner more in the long run and prolonging the time until the pet gets its needed medication. I have a much higher rate of owner compliance when they leave my clinic with the needed medication and specific and concise directions. My staff and I are who need to be giving instructions, not people that have not even been trained in veterinary medicine. How many of your clients must be routinely reminded which products protect against heartworms, fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites or any combination of these. It is confusing and the market is ever changing.
    As far as cost is concerned, veterinarians will be forced to raise prices for office visits and other procedures to offset the small markup they make on product sales and the extra time spent writing possibly unused scripts. The owners won’t initially realize that it is costing them more and is less convenient to get their meds filled elsewhere but with time they will understand. The end result will be a useless and time consuming law that requires us to waste expensive paper

    • The sad thing is that the consumers will not realize that this will cost them more money until it is too late. In our practice we will need to hire a full time employee just to help write scripts. This will raise our fees because somewhere we must collect the money to pay this person. The veterinary industry is extremely efficient when you compare it to the human medical field. This will only make more inefficiency. I have very little sympathy for the voters that can not see the ultimate price they will pay.

  6. Why not just mandate that a sign be placed at the front counter stating that we will provide a written prescription at the owner’s request?

    Easy. Owners are aware of their options (if they aren’t already), and no need for large amount of money to change hands between industry, lobbyists, and politicians.

    Oh, never mind. I see what is going on here.

  7. If this becomes law it should also be required that all pharmacies filling medications for non human animals have a VETETINARY Pharmacist on duty. I have seen too many mistakes made by people who do not understand the species for whom they are providing the medications. Some of the mistakes were potentially life-threatening. If they want to fill this role they must be appropriately educated and licensed.