STUDIO CITY (KCBS) — It’s no secret that being a police officer can be a dangerous job, but now, officers are facing a new enemy that can be virtually invisible and deadly to their closest allies.
Police K-9s are vulnerable to powerful, illegal opioids like fentanyl that have flooded cities across the country, but in Southern California, officers are doing all they can to protect the animals whose life’s purpose it is to work.
Six-year-old German Shepherd Ivan is one of the stars at the Anaheim Police Dept.
His partner Brian Bonczkiewicz told KCBS News that in Ivan’s four years on the job, he’s helped seize more than 700 pounds of illegal drugs, which are valued at over one million dollars.
However, Bonczkiewicz said Ivan’s job has never been more dangerous than right now.
“Fentanyl is very dangerous,” said Bonczkiewicz. “It’s about 100 times more powerful than morphine.”
As Ivan’s weapon is his nose, and since he’s trained to stick it wherever there might be drugs without hesitation, drugs like heroin, which can often be laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, can enter the dog’s system.
“It’s very dangerous to anyone or anything that comes into contact with it,” said Bonczkiewicz. “It only takes a very, very tiny amount, and if you don’t get immediate help, it’s going to be extremely fatal.”
To prevent opioid overdoses of humans and the K-9s, Anaheim PD and police across the nation are now carrying Naxolone, also known as Narcan.
“It comes in a little tab form. You can put it by the nose, you squeeze it in, and it basically vaporizes up into an aerosol form,” said Bonczkiewicz. “It’s the same for the dog. We use the same capsule, and it’ll immediately start to counteract the agents of the fentanyl if they come in contact.”
The Narcan can be inhaled or injected.
It can also be very expensive, but that’s where Paul Ressler comes in.
After he lost his son to a drug overdose in 2010, Ressler founded TOPAC, a private nonprofit that provides Narcan kits and training to law enforcement helping both human officers and K-9s.
“As a family, we had this great love for dogs,” Ressler told KCBS.
It’s just one more way K-9 handlers like Officer Bonczkiewicz can help protect their partners.
“I’m always concerned for Ivan with whatever job he’s doing,” said Bonczkiewicz.