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Opioid epidemic affects police dogs too

By Julia Metraux, May 2018, Updated June 2021

The opioid epidemic devastating fatalities include man’s best friend. In an article published on April 20, CNN reports that police dogs are being killed from sniffing fentanyl, which can be up to a 100 times more potent than morphine. While there has not been any completed studies on police dogs fatalities from fentanyl or an active database, there are statistics about police dog fatalities from exposures to other drugs. For example, in 2016, 35 Police Dogs died in the line of duty; some of these may have been from contact with opioid drugs.

University of Illinois Professor Jane Desmond, who researches anthropology, wrote the CNN article. Desmond argued that these deaths can be prevented or occur less often if state legislators, law enforcement, and first responders work together, referencing legislation and activism that has happened in Illinois. On August 15, 2017, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed a piece of legislation which explicitly states that police dogs may be transported to veterinary clinics in ambulances. Although, this comes with the condition that these dogs will not be transported if humans require the use of available ambulances.

In addition, University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine’s Dr. Maureen McMichael and Dr. Ashley Mitek created instructions on how to treat dogs who have been exposed to drugs like fentanyl, titled “Working Dog Treat and Transport Protocol.” This protocol includes instructions on how to clear a dog’s airway, emphasis on the importance of getting overdosed dogs to a veterinarian immediately, and how to administer Narcan to canines.

Other states besides Illinois have taken measures to protect police dogs from suffering from fatal overdoses. For example, Massachusetts State Police handlers, as of June 2017, keep naloxone for their canine partners, in case they are exposed to fentanyl. City of Hartford Police also keeps naloxone for police dogs due to their direct exposure, according to deputy chief Brian Foley in an interview with CBS News.


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“Dogs are not looking for drugs with their eyes and feeling with their fingers; they're literally breathing it in and inhaling it,” Foley said.

While the loss of police dogs should be avoided because of their service to the places they serve, many of them also are part of people’s families. According to an article in Police K9 magazine, police dogs in most jurisdictions live with their handlers. As law enforcement works to try and control the opioid epidemic, it is crucial that they strive to protect their canine companions. For officers like Deputy Greg Myers, who works for Sonoma Coast in California, their police dogs are part of their families, just like most dogs.

“[My dog]’s my partner (and) comes home with me every day and interacts with the family,” Myers said. “He’s a great dog and super friendly.”