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The opioid crisis affects dogs, too. Here’s how police officers protect K-9 partners from overdoses

Canine police units sniff out suspects, missing people and guns, but they can also encounter potentially lethal opioids like heroin or fentanyl. In light of the national opioid crisis, some officers are getting Narcan training in case their dogs inhale or ingest dangerous substances during searches. Special correspondent Tina Martin of WGBH reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Combating the opioid crisis frequently involves police officers, including their four-legged partners, who have much more sensitive noses.

    In Massachusetts, an effort is under way to protect trained K-9s from potential exposure to lethal drugs such as fentanyl.

    From PBS station WGBH in Boston, Tina Martin reports.

  • Tina Martin:

    Quincy police K-9 officer Scott Doherty and his partner, Mace, go through a practice explosives search.

  • Scott Doherty:

    Mace will be 5 in October, and I have had him for four years.

  • Tina Martin:

    They work the Boston Marathon and the Fourth of July celebration on the Esplanade every year.

  • Scott Doherty:

    We do everything from large venues and events for explosives detection sweeps. As part of that, he also detects guns.

  • Tina Martin:

    Mace, like the department's other K-9 officers, uses his nose to find suspects, missing people and guns, but he may also encounter opioids, like heroin or carfentanil, which can be lethal.

  • Scott Doherty:

    With drugs typically comes guns, so Mace may very well be involved in a search warrant or any kind of search for a gun as a result of a fellow drug investigation or a drug search.

  • Tina Martin:

    To protect his partner, Officer Doherty carries Narcan.

  • Lieutenant Bob Gillan:

    We follow the trends in the country. There have been a lot of K-9s exposed to fentanyl and carfentanil, so we just want to stay up on the protection of the dogs.

  • Tina Martin:

    Lieutenant Bob Gillan runs the K-9 unit of 12 officers and their dogs. A year ago, he brought in the staff at New England Animal Medical Center to do Narcan trainings.

    Diane Whittaker is one of the veterinary technicians.

  • Diane Whittaker:

    There's the auto-injector, which I just demonstrated on Mace.

    We do probably three classes, three classes sometimes four classes, a year for specific departments.

  • Tina Martin:

    Jessica McKay-Dasent, a veterinarian, says, just like humans, it's important to know the signs.

  • Jessica McKay-Dasent:

    When an animal is exposed to an opioid, some signs that you're going to notice would be not responding to commands, staring into space.

  • Tina Martin:

    And even if a handler is not sure, it's better to act

  • Jessica McKay-Dasent:

    Narcan is relatively harmless. It doesn't have very many adverse effects, so if they get an unnecessary Narcan injection, they're not going to respond to it in a bad way.

  • Tina Martin:

    In Quincy, first-responders have used Narcan more than 700 times on humans, but they haven't had to use it on K-9s.

    Officer Scott Doherty says he's ready to protect his partner.

  • Scott Doherty:

    If Mace were to come in contact with an opiate, fentanyl, heroin, carfentanil, he would need my help, and I would need to recognize the signs in him.

  • Tina Martin:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Tina Martin in Quincy, Massachusetts.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Those K-9 partners matter.

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