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Medford police dogs now detect fentanyl

Medford Police Department K-9s Nacho, left, and Max are now certified in fentanyl detection. [Photos courtesy MPD]
Deadly drug driving record overdoses

Two dogs with Medford Police Department are now trained to sniff out fentanyl — the powerful, often deadly drug behind a record number of overdose deaths across America.

After earning their credentials last month, Nacho and Max became the first two police service dogs in Oregon certified by a police K-9 association to detect fentanyl, MPD said.

The MPD K-9 team partnered with the California Narcotic Canine Association to train the two dogs and dog-handling officers in fentanyl detection.

“This innovative effort was led by K-9 Officer Havice. It’s thanks to his diligent work and extensive research that we were able to connect with CNCA and complete this impactful K-9 training,” MPD Lt. Mark Cromwell said in a press release.

Officer Rob Havice has decades of experience working in law enforcement and handling police dogs.

Max the dog already has been deployed and successfully detected fentanyl. His nose led to the seizure of more than 6 ounces of powdered fentanyl, MPD said.

That might not sound like much, but 6 ounces of pure fentanyl is enough to kill 85,000 people — almost the whole population of Medford, according to data on what constitutes a lethal dose from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

“The recent certification of K-9 Nacho and K-9 Max will help in our efforts to save lives and limit the amount of fentanyl in our community,” MPD said in the press release.

The amount of fentanyl intercepted by law enforcement in Jackson County grew tenfold from 2021 to this year — and 2022 isn’t over yet, according to Marco Boccato, assistant U.S. attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office District of Oregon.

Fentanyl can cause a person to stop breathing.

MPD said the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement team has seen an extreme increase in powdered fentanyl, which poses a significant risk of exposure to officers and K-9s. Safety measures for all responders and service dogs are in place, which includes having Narcan on hand to deploy, if necessary.

Narcan is the brand name for an easy-to-use naloxone nasal spray that reverses an opioid overdose. Opioids include fentanyl made in illegal labs, heroin derived from poppies and prescription medication like oxycodone pain pills.

Rogue Valley first responders, including police and paramedics, began carrying overdose antidote on a widespread basis several years ago because of a rise in heroin and opioid medication overdoses in the community.

Fentanyl is even more deadly.

Drug trafficking organizations now commonly mix fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine and use it to make counterfeit pain pills.

Their newest tactic is to appeal to kids and young adults with colorful fentanyl pills, powder and a sidewalk chalk-like substance dubbed “rainbow fentanyl.” Colorful fentanyl pills are sometimes called “Skittles” after the fruit-flavored candy.

In 2021, a record 107,622 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, with 66% of those deaths related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Drug poisonings are the leading killer of Americans between ages 18 and 45.

Overdose deaths jumped to 91 in Jackson County in 2021, up from 41 deaths in 2020 and 16 in 2019, according to data from the Jackson County Medical Examiner’s Office.

For information on getting a free overdose antidote kit and instructions on how to use it, see the nonprofit group Max’s Mission website at maxsmission.org or call 458-225-9760. The website also includes information on local addiction treatment, mental health care and shelter.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.