Portland Police K-9′s trained to detect fentanyl

Published: Apr. 5, 2023 at 5:50 PM PDT
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PORTLAND Ore. (KPTV) - Portland Police’s drug K-9′s are now trained to sniff out fentanyl.

It comes as the bureau tries to get a grip on the pervasive and deadly synthetic opioid that’s become a crisis on two fronts: it’s a favored drug of choice among addicts looking for a cheap high, and it’s an unsuspected ingredient for some users who believe they are ingesting prescription oxycodone. The latter are more likely to die from an accidental overdose, known as “fentanyl poisoning.”

Fentanyl is now the leading focus of the bureau’s Narcotics and Organized Crime Unit (NOC), according to Sgt. Erik Strohmeyer, who told FOX 12 overdose cases are most of the unit’s work.

The team uses three K-9s that were “imprinted” on fentanyl in the last several weeks and months.

FOX 12 recently captured two of the K-9′s in action, sniffing out trace amounts of fentanyl odor, which is standard practice during training sessions.

SEE ALSO: Washington launches opioid and overdose death dashboard website

‘Stitch’ and ‘Niko’ are both Belgium Malinois that are also trained to detect meth and heroin, among other drugs.

Officer Christopher Verbout is partnered with Stitch.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in fentanyl, like all across the country,” Verbout said. “We’re getting a ton of overdose deaths, from fentanyl specifically, and we’re coming across it in our daily work anyways, so we thought it was time to use the tool of the dog and find it and get some more of it off the streets.”

Officer Chris Devlin handles Niko and told FOX 12 that fentanyl’s presence in Portland has evolved over the last couple of years.

“It started with all the blue ‘M30′ pills -- the counterfeit oxycodone,” Devlin said. “And over the last year, year-and-a-half, we started seeing the fentanyl powder. It’s just becoming more and more with the powder, to the point where it’s almost 50/50, powder to pills.”

For the K-9′s, the work to find the drugs is all fun and games. Alerting officers to a hidden stash comes with a reward of special playtime, often involving toys.

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For the officers, finding fentanyl is about more than busting suspects.

“With police officers – the ones who have overdosed -- typically are getting exposed to the powder in the air, when something is getting opened, whether it’s a wallet, or a bag and it’s hitting the air and getting blown into the face,” Devlin said. “So if a dog can find that when it’s in a closed container, the officers can then approach that with a little more caution.”

Portland Police told FOX 12 that officers also prioritize officer and dog safety while training on fentanyl detection. The officers don’t use real fentanyl pills or powder. Instead, they work with pure fentanyl odor, which is just the smell of the fentanyl on a special cloth and doesn’t contain any drugs.