First responders and police departments across Massachusetts carry naloxone — also known as Narcan — to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses in people. Now, some K9 units are carrying Narcan to protect four-legged officers who may encounter dangerous drugs.

In Quincy, K9 police officer Scott Doherty and his partner Mace go through a practice explosives search. Mace, a Belgian Malinois, points his ears at attention as he sniffs intently.

Quincy Police Department K9 Unit officers (L-R) Scott Doherty, Lt. Bob Gillan and Kent Yee.
Tina Martin/WGBH News

“Mace will be five in October, and I’ve had him for four years,” said Doherty.

Doherty says they work the Boston marathon and the 4th of July celebration on the Esplanade every year,

“We do everything from large venues and events for explosives detection sweeps. As part of that, he also detects guns,” said Doherty.

Mace, like the department's other K9s, uses his nose to find suspects, missing people and guns. He may also encounter opioids, like heroin or carfentanil, and Doherty says all of this can be lethal,

“With drugs typically comes guns, so Mace may very well be involved in a search warrant or any kind of search for a gun as a result of a fellow drug investigation or drug search,” he said.

To protect his partner, Doherty carries Narcan. And Narcan is expensive — the auto injector, which is a needle, costs about $500, and the nasal inhaler costs $40. Quincy officers carry both, and Lt. Bob Gillan, who runs the K9 unit, says the cost is worth it,

“We follow the trends in the country," he said. "There have been a lot of canines exposed to fentanyl and carfentanil, so we just want to stay up on the protection of the dogs.”

A year ago, Gillan brought in staff from New England Animal Medical Center to train his staff on giving Narcan to the department's dogs.

Jessica Dasent, a veterinarian, says, just as with humans, it’s important to know the signs.

“When an animal is exposed to an opioid, some signs you’re going to notice would be not responding to commands, staring off into space," she said, adding that even if a handler is not sure, it’s better to act, “Narcan is relatively harmless; it doesn’t have many adverse effects, so if they get an unnecessary Narcan injection, they’re not going to respond to it in a bad way.”

In Quincy, first responders have used Narcan more than 700 times on humans, and officers haven’t had to use it on K9s,  

But Doherty says he’s ready to protect his partner.

“If Mace were to come in contact with an opioid, fentanyl, heroin carfentanil, he would need my help, and I would need to recognize the signs in him,” he said.

This post has been updated to correct the spelling of Jessica Dasent's name.