K9 units are being harmed by a powerful, dangerous drug

Police officers conducting drug raids with their K9 units are now dealing with what the DEA has called an "unprecedented threat": fentanyl, the same powerful opioid that killed Prince earlier this year.

Both the Miami Herald and NBC News report on the drug's dangers, which the cop canines are more vulnerable to because of their super-strong smelling skills, and because they're not typically decked out in the same protective gear (e.g., masks, gloves, and respirators) as their human counterparts.

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"If fentanyl is loose in an environment, it can spread out where a dog can absorb it through his pads. He could sniff it up through his jowls," Andy Weiman, a detective in Broward County, Fla., who trains dogs for the county's sheriff's office, tells NBC.

And fentanyl is so toxic that the most minuscule amount is all that's needed to sicken or even kill. Three K9 dogs became ill at the end of October while searching for cash in a Lauderhill, Fla., house, and as they were rushed to a nearby animal clinic for suspected ODs, agents conducting the raid found a bag containing fentanyl.

"He was in kind of a sedated state. He had a lack of energy," Weiman described one of the dogs, which he had trained, to the Sun Sentinel about a week after the incident.

Luckily, the dogs responded to the same treatment used on humans who suffer opiate overdoes: a dose of naloxone (aka Narcan) and plenty of fluids. All three police pups recovered and went back to work the next day, but Weiman tells NBC it was "very stressful" for their handlers, and local veterinarians have now trained cops how to spot and deal with possible fentanyl ODs.

(The strange story behind a police dog's death in Georgia.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: K9 Units Are Falling Victim to Powerful, Dangerous Drug