The Fentanyl Fallout: Wyoming Highway Patrol Expands Number of K-9s Detecting Synthetic Opioid
Department will train all its dogs to find the powerful illicit drug
- Published In: Criminal Justice
- Last Updated: Mar 14, 2023
By Ellen Fike
Special to the Wyoming Truth
In less than a year, the Wyoming Highway Patrol (WHP) has significantly expanded its cohort of fentanyl-detecting K-9s as use of the synthetic opioid soars in Wyoming and across the country.
Last summer, the department only had one K-9 sniffing out the drug: a black Labrador retriever named Reno. Now, they have 10.
The other nine dogs already were WHP members, but they have received fentanyl training in the past year.
“We will train any new K-9s purchased by the Wyoming Highway Patrol to detect fentanyl,” Sgt. Jeremy Beck, WHP spokesman, told the Wyoming Truth.
Beck said the training process for fentanyl detection is similar to training for finding cocaine, heroin and other illicit drugs. However, some extra safety precautions are taken with fentanyl to prevent the dog from ingesting it or other hazards.
“It takes about a week to train them to detect fentanyl, and all of our current fentanyl-finding K-9s were trained in Cheyenne,” Beck said. “They let their handler know there is something to look for with a focused stare. This is the same indication as other drugs, though.”
Earlier this month, one of the department’s K-9s—Beck would not identify which one—found a convicted felon at a gas station near Evanston in possession of over 1,300 fentanyl pills.
The dog finished its fentanyl training just two weeks before the bust, Beck said. He declined comment on how long the K-9 had been with the department or its age.
A growing number of police departments are training their dogs to detect fentanyl as use of the drug has become an epidemic in Wyoming and nationwide. Counties in Washington state and Oregon also have added fentanyl-sniffing K-9s to their roster.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most of the increases in fentanyl-related deaths over the last three years do not involve prescription fentanyl, but illegally manufactured drugs that are being mixed with or sold as heroin or counterfeit pills and entering the United States across the southern border.
When it is legally administered (either as a shot, a patch or in lozenge form), fentanyl is similar to morphine, but 50 to 100 times more potent. It is typically prescribed after surgery or for pain associated with early-stage cancer, according to the Wyoming Department of Health.
The number of fentanyl-related deaths in Wyoming quadrupled in just two years’ time, increasing from 11 in 2019 to 45 in 2021, the health department reported.
Wyoming also regularly prosecutes drug traffickers who bring fentanyl into the state, such as a Cheyenne bust in 2021 that saw a Washington man haul 24 pounds of fentanyl, which had an estimated street value of $150 million. The man later pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute and was sentenced to six years in prison.