FTC holds workshop on prescribing practices in veterinary medicine

At issue: prescription "portability," enabling pet owners to buy meds where they choose; also the exclusive distribution practices of some manufacturers

The Federal Trade Commission hosted a public workshop earlier this month to explore competition and consumer protection issues in the pet medications industry, which represented nearly $7 billion in U.S. retail sales last year, according to a 2011 report from Packaged Facts. Historically, pet medications have been distributed primarily by veterinarians and, in recent years, online pet pharmacies. But increasingly, so-called human pharmacies, seeing the revenue potential of this growing industry, are entering the pet medication space.

A bill introduced in 2011 in Congress, the Fairness to Pet Owners Act (HR 1406, currently in committee), would require veterinarians to write a prescription for the pet medication, whether or not they will dispense the product, as well as provide a written disclosure that clients may fill that prescription wherever they’d like. The American Veterinary Medical Assn. is opposed to this legislation, saying veterinarians already write prescriptions when prompted by pet owners, but proponents of the legislation say it’s necessary to promote competition.

It’s no surprise that veterinarians are fighting to keep their market share. One reason has to do with patient safety -- they assert that because they’re trained in pet pharmacology, they’re best equipped to dispense the correct dosage of medication. (Pharmacies that distribute pet medications aren’t required to have training in veterinary pharmacology.) But money also might be a factor -- according to the 2009 AVMA Biennial Economic Survey, prescription drugs for pets represent about 17% of a veterinary practice’s revenue.

One of the workshop participants, Dr. Race Foster, of Doctors Foster & Smith (Rhinelander, WI), an online supplier of pet medications and supplies, said prescription portability is worthless without medication availability, referring to the exclusive distribution arrangements some drug manufacturers have with veterinary practices and hospitals for select products. Clinton Vranian, General Counsel for Novartis Animal Health (Greensboro, NC), who also participated in the FTC workshop, said that distributors help educate veterinarians about new products, so exclusivity can be pro-competitive.

FTC will continue to accept comments on the topic through November 1, and “may” issue a report at a later date.