A surprising victim of the opioid crisis

There's a new victim of the opioid crisis -- and this one has four legs....

Posted: Apr 21, 2018 1:33 PM
Updated: Apr 21, 2018 1:33 PM

There's a new victim of the opioid crisis -- and this one has four legs.

Police dogs are overdosing on new narcotics they sniff out in the line of duty. Fentanyl, 50-100 times stronger than morphine, and carfentanil, a tranquilizer used on elephants that can be 10,000 times more powerful, are being mixed in with illegal heroin for a deadly high. Ingesting an amount as small as a poppy seed of these drugs can kill a dog.

No one knows exactly how many police dogs suffer from such overdoses, because there is as yet no national database, a situation the University of Illinois veterinarians are trying to correct. We do know that, according to data from Working Dog HQ run by Dr. Maureen McMichael, 36 police dogs died in 2015 from contact with heroin.

These new drugs are exponentially more powerful. As the opioid crisis continues to expand, more and more dogs will be at risk.

But there is a solution. By uniting the efforts of law enforcement, ambulance crews, EMTs and state legislators, we can save these dogs from dying in the line of duty. Dr. McMichael and her fellow University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine colleague Dr. Ashley Mitek have developed the "Working Dog Treat and Transport protocol," which they describe as a guide of what to do if a dog overdoses.

Mitek and McMichael are now training emergency medical personnel and first responders to help these police dogs in a life or death situation.

EMTs may know how to help you or me in the event of a drug overdose, but they need just a little extra instruction in how to shave a paw to find a vein or how to clear a dog's airway. Medical help on the way to the veterinary hospital can make the difference between life and death. An overdosing dog can lose consciousness and eventually stop breathing. At that point, the situation can turn deadly in minutes.

To address this risk, Mitek and McMichael are also training law enforcement to administer Narcan to their dogs if they suspect exposure. Narcan, a drug currently used to reverse the effects of opioids for people, also works on dogs, but followup care is needed.

Putting the whole process into motion wouldn't be possible, though, without the passage of a 2017 Illinois law legalizing the use of ambulances to transport police dogs when they are not needed for humans.

To be sure, there are costs involved in training the police officers and first responders to help dogs -- and many police departments are already struggling with limited funding. But minimal training is needed and the economics make sense. Training police dogs is time-consuming and expensive, but once on the job, they can provide years of service to our communities.

The Illinois approach should be a national model for police departments everywhere. A website at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine offers information on this project. So far, only a handful of states, including New York and Mississippi, have passed laws to enable ambulance crews to transport dogs. Transporting police dogs to prevent opioid overdoses is a bipartisan issue. If your state doesn't have laws like this yet, urge your legislators to pass one. They don't take ambulances away from humans; they use empty ones for dogs.

These canine heroes risk their lives for us and ask little in return but praise and a pat on the head. But we owe them so much more, including the medical care that could save their lives.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 15229

Reported Deaths: 723
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds99925
Lauderdale73561
Madison72023
Scott65012
Neshoba63038
Jones59825
Forrest55338
DeSoto5337
Rankin4217
Leake42112
Holmes39728
Copiah3104
Jackson30513
Attala29216
Yazoo2734
Newton2714
Leflore25831
Harrison2577
Lincoln25628
Monroe25525
Lamar2355
Oktibbeha23512
Lowndes2119
Pearl River20931
Pike20211
Adams19615
Noxubee1856
Wayne1771
Warren1719
Washington1687
Covington1652
Bolivar16011
Jasper1574
Smith15011
Lee1496
Kemper14411
Clarke14318
Chickasaw13312
Lafayette1314
Coahoma1214
Carroll11711
Marion1159
Clay1124
Winston1121
Claiborne1112
Lawrence1021
Simpson1010
Yalobusha905
Hancock9011
Tate891
Grenada893
Wilkinson889
Itawamba877
Union835
Marshall833
Montgomery831
Sunflower813
Jefferson Davis772
Tippah7311
Panola703
Webster691
Calhoun644
Humphreys607
Amite601
Walthall550
Tunica543
Prentiss523
Perry503
Choctaw432
Jefferson421
Tishomingo320
Pontotoc323
Stone300
Franklin282
Tallahatchie271
Quitman260
George251
Alcorn171
Benton150
Greene121
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 17359

Reported Deaths: 618
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2191115
Jefferson1780102
Montgomery163238
Tuscaloosa73814
Marshall6879
Franklin5457
Lee54033
Shelby50319
Tallapoosa42364
Butler40217
Chambers35325
Walker3442
Elmore3398
Madison3274
Baldwin2839
Dallas2603
Morgan2511
Etowah24811
DeKalb2433
Lowndes23812
Coffee2291
Sumter2206
Autauga2164
Houston2094
Bullock2034
Pike1980
Colbert1782
Russell1670
Marengo1636
Lauderdale1612
Hale1598
Calhoun1543
Choctaw1518
Barbour1501
Wilcox1447
Clarke1422
Cullman1260
Randolph1257
Marion12111
St. Clair1181
Pickens1114
Dale1100
Talladega1093
Chilton1001
Limestone940
Greene944
Winston880
Covington771
Jackson772
Crenshaw763
Macon754
Henry742
Bibb721
Washington686
Blount611
Escambia573
Lawrence480
Geneva400
Conecuh391
Coosa381
Monroe372
Perry370
Cherokee373
Clay272
Lamar230
Fayette150
Cleburne141
Unassigned00
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