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The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: A salute to police dogs on the front lines of the drug war

August 09. 2017 9:11PM

In the world of narcotics, police dogs play a major role. But the constant battle against opioid abuse has changed the game.

Police dogs hunt for drugs by scent, so as they sniff they could be breathing in and ingesting dangerous substances like fentanyl. These drugs can also be absorbed through a dog’s paws.

Synthetic opioid fentanyl and its deadlier cousin carfentanil (100 times more potent) are so powerful that even small amounts through inadvertent contact can sicken a person. These synthetic monsters are often mixed with heroin, creating the ultimate and sometimes lethal cocktail for an addict. When first responders such as emergency medical technicians, police and firefighters are called to the scene, caution is essential.

The cities of Nashua and Manchester know this all too well as the Granite State reels from the scourge of opioid addiction. New Hampshire has the highest per-capita fentanyl death rate in the country, so our first responders have their hands full on a daily basis.

Here in Nashua and in the Queen City, emergency personnel have to wear protective masks and gloves because fentanyl and carfentanil can be absorbed through the skin or accidental inhalation of airborne powder. (The Gate City has not seen carfentanil yet).

Many police departments across the nation are also now carrying Narcan kits on drug raids, so if accidentally absorbed the Narcan will save their officers from an overdose. Narcan (naloxone) is a drug that reverses overdoses in humans; it can also protect a police dog from the same potentially dangerous situation.

Nashua Police Chief Andrew Lavoie tells me his narcotics unit is well prepared at drug raids and carries Narcan in the case of accidental exposure. The overdose reversal drug is also available in the station’s booking department.

Nashua Police’s K-9 unit currently includes three four-legged partners, two of which sniff out street drugs of every kind. Thankfully, neither a narcotics officer or police dog has been exposed to fentanyl and overdosed, but if the situation occurs, Nashua’s officers are equipped to administer naloxone in dog-size portions.

We’ve all learned that fentanyl is extremely dangerous stuff. The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a video warning to officers across the country last year about arming themselves with Narcan and advising them to bring suspected fentanyl to a lab instead of trying to test the synthetic drug in the field.

DEA Deputy Administrator Jack Riley also urged departments to look out for their dogs.

“Fentanyl can kill our canine companions and partners just as easy as it can humans, so please take precautions for their safety, too,” Riley said.

Like most police departments, Nashua relies on the superior characteristics of these two prominent breeds for narcotics assignments — the German shepherd and Belgian malinois.

Sgt. Jennifer Greene tells me both are very intelligent, strong, loyal, have a great work ethic and are exceptional on sniff patrol. The dogs also live with their law enforcement handlers to cement a tight bond and maintain a sociable demeanor.

Sgt. Greene oversees Nashua’s K-9 unit and wears the title of First Line Supervisor of the Professional Standards Bureau. She’s wonderful to talk with, highly experienced in training these beautiful animals for law enforcement and a proud owner of three dogs.

I’m not alone when I hope that all dogs are safe here in the city, especially those working with Nashua police on the front lines of the opioid war. So, thank you, Arex and Vorik and to Dutch shepherd Scooby-Doo, the city’s expert explosives sniffer.

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at

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