Even Police Dogs Are Now Using Opioid Overdose Drugs

As potent opioids are endangering police dogs used in drug raids, some departments are fighting back

Jun 01, 2017 at 11:29 AM ET

Narcotics have become so potent that the police dogs entrusted to sniff them out during drug raids are at risk from overdosing. Now, the same drug used to reverse overdoses in humans is being used on dogs, too.

Last October, three police dogs in Broward County, Florida, overdosed on the synthetic drug fentanyl, but their handlers didn’t know what was wrong with them at the time. They were able to get the dogs to a veterinarian who realized that the dogs had overdosed. The doctor was able to give them the overdose reversal drug, naloxone, also known as Narcan, in time, but the delay could have been fatal. So now, many police departments, like the one in Hartford, Connecticut, are incorporating overdose symptoms and Narcan use for dogs into their training.

“Our officers wanted it for their dogs’ safety,” Brian Foley, deputy chief of the Hartford Police Department, told the Associated Press. “They love their dogs like family and they want to protect them. They know they’re putting them in the line of serious risk of overdose.”

At the University of Illinois’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the school produced a video in March instructing police dog handlers how to administer the drug. In the video, the college’s Police Training Institute director noted that after decades of using dogs to help detect drugs, the rise of fentanyl, and the more powerful carfentanil, in recreational drug use has made the animals’ jobs even more hazardous. The AP reported that being exposed to an amount of fentanyl the equivalent of a few grains of sand can be enough to kill a dog.

In Massachusetts, the state police recently began including a lesson on when and how Narcan should be administered to dogs as part of its canine trooper training program. NPR reported that this was instituted after police dogs came across fentanyl, with troopers worried that they could be exposed to it through touch or inhalation. (Hartford police officers have been doing the same since January.)

While police dogs are smaller than their human co-workers and more likely to come into direct contact with the drug due to the nature of their work, officers remain at risk of an overdose from accidental fentanyl exposure. Many departments now take special precautions in evidence handling, though those safeguards still may not be enough.