BOONE COUNTY, Mo. - Being a police officer is an inherently dangerous job, but new drugs on the streets can be deadly for K-9 units.
“Realistically we’re always playing catch-up with those types of drugs,” said Adam Duncan, an instructor at the Law Enforcement Training Institute in Columbia.
One of the latest dangers for drug-sniffing dogs is fentanyl. Fentanyl is a narcotic commonly used for cancer patients. It has a quick release with short duration of action. It is also 50 - 100 times stronger than heroine. A dose the size of two or three grains of salt can be lethal.
“This new trend of fentanyl exposure is a real danger to those officers that are out there seizing these drugs as evidence,” said Sgt. Scott White, with Missouri State Highway Patrol.
Across the country, K-9 units have been becoming ill after ingesting fentanyl. So far in Missouri, there have been no reports of K-9 units ingesting the drug.
"When it comes to fentanyl, it’s a drug that is not measured in milligrams like so many other drugs," White said. "It’s measured in micrograms. So a dose as small as a few grains of salt can be fatal if it is ingested or absorbed. the difference between a dose that it is therapeutic and one that is fatal is very small.”
K-9 officers say they will assess a scene before sending a dog in to make sure the area is safe of hazardous materials, including deadly drugs.
"It wouldn’t be any different than what we deploy a person into," said Lt. Philip Smith, with Boone County. "If it’s not safe for a person to go inside, it’s not going to be safe for a dog to go inside. [We] don’t put the dog in an environment [we] think he is going to inhale something he shouldn’t. And that’s what [we're] concerned about, the inhalation of the powder.”
Smith said some agencies have started carrying Narcan with their K-9 units. Boone County has not.
“We have one of the finest veterinary hospitals within in minutes," Smith said. "At any point in time, if I think the dog has been exposed to something, I can get him there pretty quickly.”
K-9 units are a valuable tool for agencies to have when it comes to law enforcement and public service.
"We use them to find narcotics, we use them to find people," Smith said. "We use them for apprehension, we use them for building searches. There are so many different things that that dog can do and it greatly enhances your ability to find things. That dog is a locating tool.”
Because of the dogs' unique skill set, Smith said K-9 officers are more often involved dangerous situations than other officers.
"As a K-9 officer, you’re on the front lines all the time," Smith said. "You’re in those more dangerous calls more often than the officers would be. Fortunately, we get the training and experience that help us to deal with those situations without getting injured.”