"He has my back, that's my partner when I’m out there,” said Baltimore City Police Officer Steve Strum.
Strum and his dog, Abu, have been working the streets together for nearly seven years. But now, they have to be more careful than ever. The strong, synthetic opioid fentanyl is taking lives in record numbers, and putting the duo at risk on the job.
"Just the tiniest bit of that drug is deadly," Strum said.
Back in 2011, there were just two fentanyl-related deaths in Charm City. Newly released numbers show in 2016 the casualty count topped more than 400. The powerful painkiller is often mixed with heroin without users knowing, and just a tiny amount can be fatal.
Police canines use their noses to sniff out narcotics, so officers are taking precautions to keep the dogs safe from inhaling or getting near fentanyl.
"When I arrive on scene, I visually inspect the area to make sure there's no loose powders or anything present,” said Baltimore City Police Officer Katie Fox.
"You have to be very observant of the areas you're searching,” said Strum. “If I get a call out for him to get a sweep, we're gonna check it by hand first just to make sure there's nothing that seems out of order, but you still have to be on your toes now."
That's the reason all of the handlers in the department are now being trained to give their four-legged partners naloxone. The drug works the same in humans and dogs, by reversing the effects of an opioid overdose.
"I personally am already trained, I carry the kit and have it ready to go in case there is an exposure," Fox said.
And BPD isn't alone. Baltimore County Police, Anne Arundel County Police, Howard County Police, Harford County Sheriff’s Office, Frederick City Police, and Maryland State Police are already arming handlers with a dose of naloxone for their dogs.
"It's a good thing, it's a life saver for them and us," Strum said.
Turns out, the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration does not track canine overdoses across the country. It’s unclear how many drug dogs have been exposed to fentanyl while working to detect drugs.