There’s a new victim in the ongoing drug crisis sweeping through the country: dogs.
In the last year more than 600 family pets overdosed after accidentally eating pills that were left out by their owners.
But K-9 officers are also vulnerable in the line of duty.
“The danger for them is a lot higher than it is for us,” explained Sgt. Nick Winsett of Evansville Police.
K-9 officers are some of law enforcement’s most valuable assets when it comes to a sniffing out deadly drugs, especially in the age of the opioid epidemic.
However, they’re also at the greatest risk of overdose.
“It has to do with body weight, said Sgt. Jason Thomas, who serves as Canine Supervisor with Evansville Police. “So yes, a dog could–if they were exposed to it–it could affect them quicker than it could a human.”
A recent warning released by the Drug Enforcement Agency says Police K-9 units are particularly at risk of immediate death from inhaling various lethal drugs.
“With the rise in recreational use of fentanyl, carfentanyl, across the country, in Evansville, we’ve taken several precautions to help against that,” Sgt. Thomas listed.
K-9s in Evansville are now equipped with vests and oxygen masks. Their handlers are also carrying Narcan, the drug that reverses the harm by binding to the same receptors as the medications they are inhaling.
“It’s a high risk job, it’s high risk work for them,” Thomas added.
But it’s not just K-9s that are at risk. The animal control center has received hundreds of thousands of calls about family pets overdosing.
“Any of the morphine or opiates derivatives have unpredictable–If you don’t know how the animal is going to react. Just like in people. Some people can get sedated. There’s the other method that happens with opiates. That can be agitation, pacing, hallucinations.” said veterinarian Dr. Margie Garrett.
Smaller, younger dogs were more likely to be the subject of calls.
“If it’s a smaller weight, then they can be exposed to more sedative effects than a larger animal with the same dose,” Dr. Garrett added.
Besides opioids, other problematic drugs ingested by dogs include over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which can cause kidney and liver damage. Heart medications, antidepressants, and ADHD medications, are also typical toxicants which can be deadly for pets.
Veterinarians say the best way you can protect your furry friends, make sure your medication is properly stored.