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.

Cases: 314710

Reported Deaths: 7254
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21646260
Hinds20369416
Harrison17949309
Rankin13643278
Jackson13450246
Madison10113217
Lee9986174
Jones8384163
Forrest7689152
Lauderdale7198240
Lowndes6403148
Lamar623686
Lafayette6203119
Washington5341134
Bolivar4802132
Oktibbeha462998
Panola4596107
Pearl River4519146
Marshall4450103
Warren4393121
Pontotoc420872
Monroe4115133
Union411176
Neshoba4031176
Lincoln3969110
Hancock379586
Leflore3498125
Sunflower336290
Tate334784
Pike3327105
Scott316274
Alcorn313368
Yazoo311770
Itawamba300577
Copiah297465
Coahoma295579
Simpson295388
Tippah288768
Adams286982
Prentiss280060
Marion269380
Leake268473
Wayne262841
Grenada261587
Covington259881
George248148
Newton246862
Winston227581
Tishomingo227067
Jasper221148
Attala214473
Chickasaw208057
Holmes189174
Clay185554
Stone182833
Tallahatchie178941
Clarke178080
Calhoun170932
Yalobusha164638
Smith162534
Walthall134245
Greene130633
Lawrence128724
Montgomery127142
Noxubee126734
Perry126338
Amite123142
Carroll121829
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis107133
Tunica105726
Claiborne102430
Benton100025
Humphreys96733
Kemper95828
Franklin83923
Quitman81116
Choctaw76418
Wilkinson67531
Jefferson65728
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 537813

Reported Deaths: 11024
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson791691529
Mobile41177808
Madison35002507
Tuscaloosa25871454
Shelby25076249
Montgomery24549591
Baldwin21290309
Lee15946171
Calhoun14556319
Morgan14364280
Etowah13890353
Marshall12262223
Houston10602282
Elmore10115206
Limestone10031151
St. Clair9890245
Cullman9730194
Lauderdale9449243
DeKalb8853188
Talladega8325176
Walker7259277
Autauga6971108
Jackson6830112
Blount6750139
Colbert6317134
Coffee5546119
Dale4869113
Russell444338
Chilton4343113
Franklin426282
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4040152
Escambia394577
Chambers3581123
Dallas3564153
Clarke351361
Marion3137101
Pike311977
Lawrence302298
Winston275673
Bibb263064
Geneva252577
Marengo249664
Pickens234862
Barbour231956
Hale223677
Butler217869
Fayette212462
Henry189644
Cherokee184345
Randolph182042
Monroe178140
Washington167639
Macon160750
Clay156957
Crenshaw153357
Cleburne149241
Lamar143035
Lowndes139653
Wilcox127430
Bullock123041
Conecuh110629
Coosa108928
Perry107826
Sumter104932
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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