Drug-sniffing police dogs may be the latest victims of the opioid epidemic sweeping the United States.
Veterinarians and law enforcement officials say many drug-enforcement dogs are inadvertently overdosing on the job, leading to premature deaths for these hard-working canines.
“This is a really big issue,” Cynthia Otto, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Working Dog Center, told Fox News. “Lots of these canine officers are exposed and their handlers don’t even know what an overdose looks like [in these animals].”
No Way To Track The Problem
The main problem is that there’s no mandatory reporting or centralized database for police dog handlers to report instances of canine drug overdoses. As a result, there’s no way to gauge how widespread the problem is.
“The problem is that there is no mandatory reporting, no centralized database and nowhere for handlers to report that their dog has been affected,” said Dr. Maureen McMichael of the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine. “We don’t have hard numbers. No one does, not even the U.S. government.”
Dr. McMichael said a small amount of opioids can kill a dog, so it’s crucial to keep tabs on overdose instances. The situation first made headlines in 2016, after three police dogs overdosed on fentanyl during a federal drug raid in Florida while sniffing around a suspect’s home, NBC News reported.
Fentanyl, the drug that killed singer Prince, is 50 times more powerful than heroin.
To combat the problem and protect these brave working dogs, more police-dog handlers are carrying canine versions of naloxone, the Daily Herald reported.
Naloxone is an opioid antagonist, meaning it rapidly reverses and blocks the effects of an opioid overdose.
Dr. Maureen McMichael and her colleagues at the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine are also trying to set up a national database to keep tabs on canine drug overdoses and have been reaching out to law enforcement to provide training and education.
Dr. McMichael first launched these efforts in 2015, after the local police chief called her and said three of his police dogs had collapsed after a drug raid, during which they sniffed opiates.
McMichael said she believes the situation is far more widespread than people realize because these incidents are vastly underreported. “Less than 10 percent of what’s happening out there is reported,” she said.
Meanwhile, dog handlers are urged to look for warnings of canine opioid overdose, such as over-excitability, excessive panting, and constant pacing.