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updated: 6/8/2018 6:36 AM

Are police dogs another victim of the opioid epidemic?

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  • Kane County sheriff's Deputy Nick Wolf works with Tyront, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois. Wolf said he and colleagues carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone in case their police dog partners accidentally ingest drugs while on duty.

      Kane County sheriff's Deputy Nick Wolf works with Tyront, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois. Wolf said he and colleagues carry the overdose-reversing drug naloxone in case their police dog partners accidentally ingest drugs while on duty.
    Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

 

Naloxone: It's not just for people.

While the national opioid epidemic claims 115 human lives a day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there's growing concern about another group of potential victims -- police dogs.

Police canines searching for dope or taking part in a drug raid face the risk of accidentally ingesting opioids, with possibly deadly consequences. That's especially true because of the growing potency of the drugs out on the streets, a result of high-powered opiates like fentanyl (100 times more powerful than morphine) and carfentanil (10,000 times more powerful) being mixed with heroin.

"A poppy seed size of the powder can kill a dog," Dr. Maureen McMichael of the University of Illinois' College of Veterinary Medicine told us this week.

That's why more and more suburban police-dog handlers are equipping themselves with canine versions of the overdose-reversing medication naloxone.

Kane County sheriff's Deputy Nick Wolf carries the overdose reversal drug naloxone, to be used if Tyront, his 9-year-old Belgian Malinois police-dog partner, accidentally ingests potent fentanyl while searching for drugs.
  Kane County sheriff's Deputy Nick Wolf carries the overdose reversal drug naloxone, to be used if Tyront, his 9-year-old Belgian Malinois police-dog partner, accidentally ingests potent fentanyl while searching for drugs. - Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

"Everybody in our training group" carries the antidote, said Kane County sheriff's Deputy Nick Wolf, who partners with Tyront, one of the department's eight dogs. His training group includes officers and 20 dogs from Illinois State Police, Naperville, South Elgin, Oak Brook and Aurora.

Kane County officers carry both inhalable and injectable forms of the antidote, but they prefer the injectable for their own safety, Wolf said. Injured or ill dogs might become agitated and bite, even someone they know and love.

Fortunately, Wolf said, none of the sheriff's office's dogs have overdosed.

How bad is it?

Since reporting police dog deaths and injuries isn't mandatory, nobody knows for sure how many are overdosing as a result of the opioid crisis.

McMichael and her colleagues in Urbana are working to change that. They're reaching out to law enforcement and fellow vets to create a database tracking the frequency and causes of police dog deaths.

They're also providing training and education, including a YouTube video, which has been watched nearly 10,000 times, instructing officers how to save a dog's life from an overdose. And the college has created a mobile app that will allow a first responder with an injured dog to quickly find a nearby veterinarian who's available to provide care.

The college began these efforts about three years ago, after Springfield's police chief called and said three of the department's dogs collapsed after inhaling opiates, McMichael said.

"Less than 10 percent of what's happening out there is reported," she said.

Sandy Pihos
Sandy Pihos
More to the story

When former state Rep. Sandra Pihos of Glen Ellyn was arrested last year on charges she shoplifted from a Von Maur department store, Lombard police blacked out many details when releasing their report. What we were left with indicated a store detective saw her leave without paying for three items of clothing valued at $571.

With Pihos pleading guilty to a misdemeanor earlier this week, and later issuing a statement in which she called the whole thing a misunderstanding, we got our hands on an unredacted copy of the police report.

What did we learn? According to the report, Pihos was seen twice going into a dressing room carrying items, then leaving it with fewer items.

When a store detective checked the room after she left it, the apparently left-behind merchandise was not there. Pihos then made a purchase, picked up something from the alterations department and left, according to the report.

Store detectives stopped her in the parking lot and asked her to return. After admitting she took the clothing, Pihos told a Lombard police officer "she made a dumb decision and just took the items," the report states.

What were they? A $298 gray Eileen Fisher dress, a $145 orange Masai dress and a $128 gray Nic and Zoe top, the report says.

The report also seems to contradict what police had told the media early on, when they said that Pihos tried to return the stolen items for cash.

According to Pihos' written statement, "To be clear, reports that I made two trips to Von Maur (a store I have loyally patronized for years) and attempted to return merchandise that I had not purchased are absolutely false.

"And while the events leading to these charges were a misunderstanding, I have chosen to move forward to put this awful matter behind me rather than endure a public trial that would ultimately come down to my word against someone else's."

Losing big when you 'win'

Falling for dubious claims that you're a big winner could turn you into a big loser, according to a new report by Better Business Bureau. According to the report, sweepstakes, lottery and prize schemes are devastating victims financially and emotionally.

The report says the ever-evolving frauds target seniors through the mail, cold calling, social media and even text messages and smartphone pop-ups. Such scams bilked about a half million Americans and Canadians out of $117 million last year, according to the bureau. The median loss was about $500.

The report recommends stronger policing of deceptive mailing organizations, and it urges Facebook and other social media platforms to take steps to weed out fake profiles and make fraud reporting easier.

How do you avoid becoming a victim? The BBB says a sure sign of a bogus operation is one that asks you to pay them money (for taxes, fees, etc.) before collecting your prize. The agency also recommends calling the lottery or sweepstakes company directly to see if you won and talking to a trusted family member before providing any payment or information.

Help from D.C.

Efforts to combat violent crime and the opioid crisis in Chicago and the suburbs got some help this week when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the addition of six more federal prosecutors to the Northern District of Illinois.

Four of the new assistant U.S. attorneys will focus on violent crime and opioids. The other two will enforce federal immigration laws and try to recover government money lost in cases of fraud, according to Sessions' announcement.

They are among 311 new prosecutors being assigned nationwide.

"I have personally worked to re-purpose existing funds to support this critical mission, and as a former federal prosecutor myself, my expectations could not be higher," Sessions said.

"These exceptional and talented prosecutors are key leaders in our crime fighting partnership. This addition of new assistant U.S. attorney positions represents the largest increase in decades."

• Got a tip? Send an email to copsandcrime@dailyherald.com or call (847) 427-4483.

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