Police dogs to be trained to find fentanyl

By Alexandria Osborne

The war against the use of illegal fentanyl will get some extra help in the future from drug sniffing dogs trained to detect the substance.

That’s the intent of House Bill 1635, introduced by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale. The bill instructs the Criminal Justice Training Commission to develop model standards for training the police dogs.

Fentanyl is used illegally for intense but short-term highs and temporary feelings of euphoria, but can cause fainting, seizures and sometimes even death. Mosbrucker said the fentanyl epidemic is second only to the COVID-19 pandemic in severity.

Fentanyl can be manufactured to look like Skittles, Lucky Charms, and other shapes that could be marketed to younger children, she said.

“This is something we have to work hard to make sure the canines that we use can detect this and bring it to the attention. This drug is not only dangerous to the user,” Mosbrucker said, “it also puts the law enforcement officer in danger just handling it.”

Legal uses of the drug do exist. Fentanyl patches relieve severe pain for people who need medications around the clock. Some people, many who have gone through cancer treatments, wear patches for up to two years, Mosbrucker said.

Under the bill, police dogs would be trained to detect fentanyl in specific doses that would be illegal to possess. Legal fentanyl patches would fall well under those levels.

“Detection canines are able to be trained to indicate on specific thresholds that we would likely see on illegal street levels,” said Whatcom County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Nyhus. “There are training compounds that would be strictly controlled, mandated and used to train and certify each dog.”

Under HB 1635, a state or local government, law enforcement agency, or any state or local government employee would be immune from civil damages arising from the use of a properly trained canine to detect fentanyl starting on Jan. 1, 2025.

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