23 March 2017

INTERVIEW - Caroline Nadeau of the RCMP, Detecting and Keeping K9 Officers Safe from Fentanyl

The fentanyl crisis is an ongoing issue for Canadians.

Fentanyl impacts Canadians across many groups.

From users, who find themselves dealing with a very different high than they anticipated when they encounter heroin or other drugs laced with the inexpensive, powerful, often lethal drug, to family and community members, first responders, and healthcare professionals.

And, of course, the fentanyl crisis impacts law enforcement officers who are trying to stop the drug from hitting the streets.

In Calgary, police are looking at ways to keep canine officers safe such as distributing the fentanyl antidote, naloxone.

Since officers don’t always know when fentanyl will be present in a crime scene, the antidote is one way to make sure that officers (canine or human) are safe even if they risk exposure.

Calgary firefighters also carry naloxone, and although they haven’t had to use the drug to save an officer, they administer it regularly to Calgarians who have been exposed to the drug.

Although neither Calgary police nor any RCMP canine units have suffered an overdose while working, the same is not true across North America.

Three law enforcement dogs overdosed in Florida late last year, and were saved by applications of Narcan, a brand name version of naloxone.

InfoStream had the chance to communicate with Caroline Nadeau at the RCMP about how the organization is working to keep canine officers safe, even as they accelerate the training program to get more canine units working to keep fentanyl off the streets.

InfoStream (IS): What are the risks associated with fentanyl?

Caroline Nadeau (CN): Fentanyl is a powerful prescription painkiller about 100 times more toxic than morphine.

Unintentional exposure to pure fentanyl – touching or inhaling – can cause serious harm, including death.

Like their human counterparts, dogs are at risk of exposure from fentanyl and other opioids during investigations.

IS: What precautions are in place to reduce the risk to canine and human officers?

CN: Naloxone is a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The RCMP has distributed naloxone to all frontline RCMP officers for use on police officers and members of the public in cases of accidental contact with the potentially fatal drug.

RCMP dog handlers have been carrying naloxone (also called Narcan) for over 20 years as a precaution.

Naloxone can be safely administered to dogs in the canine units if accidental contact with fentanyl is suspected. It is as safe and as efficient for dogs as it is for humans.

The RCMP has also developed training and information on fentanyl so RCMP members know about the risks and symptoms from contact with fentanyl, how to minimize the likelihood of contact and how to administer the naloxone, if needed.

Because fentanyl can be fatal on contact or if inhaled, the RCMP needed a technique to train dogs that would minimize the risk of exposure.

We addressed this problem by transforming pure fentanyl into a diluted liquid form which preserves the original scent and prevents the dog from inhaling the substance.

This way, the dog can safely and repetitively be trained to recognize the real scent of fentanyl.

IS: What measures is the RCMP taking to protect canine officers (and their handlers)? This is particularly an issue because canine officers can become intoxicated or overdosed either through absorbing the drug through their pads, or through inhalation.

CN: The RCMP trains its dogs to signal the presence of fentanyl through passive indications.

The dog will indicate the presence and location of fentanyl to the handler by sitting down. This way, the dog does not continue to pursue the odour to the source, further reducing the likelihood of inadvertent contact.

The dog and handler keep each other safe as a team.

IS: What are your hopes for the new training program for fentanyl detection?

CN: We believe the Canadian population is safer because of our new fentanyl dog training. By keeping more fentanyl off the street, we save Canadian lives.

Training is expected to be completed for all RCMP canine units across Canada by mid-July 2017.

About Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a published academic, an editor with the Editors Association of Canada, an independent scholar and researcher, and a self-care and narrative coach. She is particularly interested in the intersection of technology and identity - how our tools shape our selves and change our stories, and in how the nature of work is changing as we incorporate more technology into our daily lives.

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