Potent Synthetic Opioids Endanger Drug Sniffing Dogs

May 30, 2017
Originally published on May 30, 2017 7:49 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Communities across this country report an increase in deaths by drug overdose. They blame extremely potent synthetic opioids. Jack Riley, deputy administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency, sent a warning video to police departments, a video that ends this way.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACK RILEY: And one other thing, Fentanyl can kill our canine companions and partners just as easy it can humans. So please take precautions for their safety, too.

INSKEEP: That's right. Some police departments are concerned about protecting police dogs from exposure to opioids. Those concerned include the Massachusetts State Police, some of whom spent time with Susan Kaplan of WGBH in Boston.

SUSAN KAPLAN, BYLINE: Fire trucks and ladders, balloons and concession stands dot Ipswich High School's parking lot. It's a Saturday morning. A small crowd of parents and children eagerly wait for a canine demonstration.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOG BARKING)

KAPLAN: These crowd-pleasing police dogs are hard workers. And Trooper George Demos says the canines do more than just chase bad guys and help get illegal drugs off the streets.

GEORGE DEMOS: That same dog, many times, is also in the woods looking for a lost child or an Alzheimer's patient that's wandered away.

KAPLAN: But opioid overdose risks to canines is a new and unanticipated problem. It grew after a couple of troopers found Fentanyl during a search and worried about the dogs getting it on their paws or inhaling a small amount. Veterinarian Carolyn Selavka agrees about the risks.

CAROLYN SELAVKA: Who's to say that some didn't drift down and you have an overly thirsty dog that comes into a room and takes a couple laps of water that might have a sprinkling of dust. So there's a lot of ways they can be exposed to it. So it's better to be prepared.

KAPLAN: Today at the Massachusetts State Police Academy, Selavka's training a class of about 30 canine troopers.

SELAVKA: If your dog is still not doing well and you're getting ready to go somewhere and you're getting another dose of Narcan...

KAPLAN: Selavka urges the cops to remember that time is critical with these synthetic opioids. They take people and likely animals down fast. She shows them where and how to administer the shot of the opioid antidote Narcan but says if all else fails, just give the dog the shot. Right now the DEA isn't keeping records of canine overdoses nationally, so it's hard to know exactly how many police dogs have been exposed.

But the Massachusetts state trooper in charge of this program told me, in his opinion, it's not a question of if one of their canines is going to overdose on synthetic Fentanyl or something even stronger, it's a question of when. For NPR News, I'm Susan Kaplan.

(SOUNDBITE OF E.S. POSTHUMUS' "NARA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.