The Taiwan Pharmacist Association yesterday urged authorities to curb the prevalent use of human drugs by veterinarians to treat animals, saying that the practice is unsafe for pets and worsening the problem of antimicrobial resistance.
The Council of Agriculture said earlier last week that it is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on a list of 654 human drugs to be approved for use by veterinarians, following the 116 human drugs authorized for animal use last year.
The government’s actions followed an incident in which a domestic drugmaker was admonished by health authorities in accordance with the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (藥事法) over reportedly selling drugs for humans to pet hospitals.
Veterinarians and pet owners were concerned about a possible domino effect that could affect the supply of human drugs, which — according to veterinarians — account for about 80 percent of veterinarian drugs and have been used for animals for more than 50 years in the nation.
The pharmacist association yesterday held a press conference in which members objected to the liberalization of the use of human drugs, saying that the council and the veterinarians “failed to negotiate with domestic veterinarian drug manufacturers for a fitting solution before amending the law ad hoc out of convenience and for cost reduction.”
The pharmacists stated that animal metabolism and physiology differ from those of humans, and drugs for humans are made with calculated doses and supervised processes according to human needs.
“Drug resistance is another potential problem,” said Chiu Chien-chiang (邱建強), executive director of the Taichung County Pharmacist Association.
“According to an article in the Infection Control Journal, [published by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Infection Control Society of Taiwan,] as much as 70 to 76 percent of the antibiotics used in the country have been used in animals, a figure that is much higher than the 48 percent in the EU,” Chiu said.
Studies have suggested that antibiotic resistance might have been caused by the use of the drugs in animals as growth promoters or for treatment, Chiu said.
“In the EU, about 25,000 people die from multidrug-resistant infections every year, with the related expenses amounting to 1.5 billion euros,” he added.
Chiu Chui-chang (邱垂章), an official at the council’s Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine, said that the referenced antibiotics are mainly used in livestock, through their feed.
“We have started to take measures to rein in the practice,” Chiu Chui-chang said.
“Pets, on the other hand, do not receive antibiotics except during a course of treatment. They are more likely to receive other kinds of human drugs, such as those for treating cardiovascular or kidney diseases,” the official added.
“The use of human drugs for pet animals is commonly seen in other developed countries such as the EU, the US and Japan. The source of pharmaceuticals is the same, while two licenses are issued,” Chiu Chui-chang said.
Taipei Veterinary Medical Association president Simon Yang (楊靜宇) agreed, adding that in the US, veterinarian and human drugs are both under supervision of the [US] FDA, while Taiwan has the council covering animal drugs and the FDA responsible for human drugs, hampering possible internal discussion.
Chiu Chien-chiang said pharmacists worry about the current lack of supervision and controlled management of the drug use.
Chiu Chui-chang said that the council will work with the FDA to build a professional evaluation and approval system overlooking the use of human drugs in animals.
“The approved list will exclude those having sufficiently obtainable veterinarian counterparts,” Chiu said.