The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) refutes claims made by SouthAustralian Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel that upscheduling a commonveterinary drug will make any substantial impact on the high suicide rates inthe profession, asserting that the primary focus should be on addressing therisk factors which lead to suicide.

“Deputy Coroner Schapel is not seeing the forest for the trees, the issue hereisn’t accessibility to this drug or any other substance that could be used tocommit suicide, the issue here is mental health and addressing the actual riskfactors which lead to suicide,” said Dr Julia Crawford, AVA President.

Deputy Coroner Schapel lambasted the federal government last week for notimplementing what he considered the “key recommendation” of a 2017 inquiry toupschedule the drug from Schedule 4 to Schedule 8 in the Commonwealth PoisonsStandard.

“There are a large number of drugs in any veterinary practice that could beused to lethal effect, restricting one drug will not make any meaningfulchange,” said Dr Crawford.

The AVA supports regulation requiring the drug to be stored in a lockedcupboard, safe or receptacle, but does not support upscheduling the drug to aSchedule 8 poison.

“We have always recommended that veterinary practices should limit access toany potentially dangerous substances by non-veterinary staff, but those mostat risk – veterinarians – will still need access to these drugs on a regularbasis. Animal welfare could be adversely affected if tighter restrictionsdelay timely euthanasia of animals in an emergency,” said Dr Crawford.

“The primary source of vet suicide is adverse psychosocial working conditions,and claiming otherwise distracts from the important work we are doing inmental health.”

The AVA identify long working hours, high workloads, poor work-life balance,the attitude of clients and stress about performing euthanasia as primereasons leading to veterinarian suicide.

“It is not just a suicide issue, many in the veterinary profession suffer fromhigh levels of anxiety, depression, stress and burnout, and high personalexpectations due to these risk factors,” said Dr Crawford.

The AVA has resources and programs that aim to address some of these riskfactors and to assist with responding when veterinarians or their staff areidentified as being at risk or in a crisis situation.

The AVA introduced a Graduate Mentoring Program in 2015 that pairs newlygraduating veterinarians with an experienced colleague in another practice.All mentors are given training, including some mental health training toassist with recognising problems in their mentees and how to refer if needed.

The AVA in 2016 rolled out Mental Health First Aid Training to assist practicestaff in identifying employees who may be experiencing mental health issuesand help them know how to respond and offer assistance and appropriatereferral. The goal is to eventually have a Mental Health First Aid Officer inevery veterinary workplace in Australia.

Alongside this, there is an AVA counselling line, an AVA HR Advisory service,seminars and lectures around resilience, wellness and mental health issues,individual collegial support where a specific need is identified and manyother related programs.

“We love our profession and care deeply for the animals we look after, but wemust focus our efforts on improving the working conditions for vets,veterinary nurses and veterinary students. This isn’t an issue that can besolved overnight but we are making good progress,” said Dr Crawford.

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