K9 narcs a buzzkill for Kentucky teens

© Jonathan Alcorn
Parents in the Louisville, Kentucky area are turning to non-police drug dogs to sniff out contraband they suspect is in their homes.

"Worried Parent? Something Smell Funny?" is a tagline for The Last Chance K9 Service in Louisville, which advertises to schools, concerned parents and events that might desire a dog to sniff for explosives or drugs. Last Chance makes clear it is not law enforcement.

"Our highly-trained and certified K9 will come to your residence, and sniff for drugs inside of your home and vehicles ‒ privately," Last Chance's website says about its 'Worried Parent Program', which comes with a $99 search fee.

One couple hired the company when they feared their teenager was smoking pot. Instead, a German shepherd sniffed out four grams of heroin tucked into a pair of tube socks, the Courier-Journal reported.

"This program was designed to help children and teenagers with drug issues (using or selling), to get a last chance to stop their behavior ‒ without going to jail or receiving a charge," the website says.

The company has searched more than 50 homes in Kentucky and Indiana, turning up drugs like heroin and methamphetamines belonging to teens or young adults living with parents who have hired the service, Michael Davis, owner of Last Chance, said. Upon finding marijuana and drug paraphernalia in one teen's room, Davis said he counseled the father who hired him to be calm when confronting his daughter.

Davis told the father: "Don't yell or scream at her. Just sit down and talk to her. Be stern but be cool, calm and collected," he said, according to the Courier-Journal.

Davis has tactical training in the detection of drugs, bombs and guns. He noted that, while parents are interested in his service, most of his work comes from larger contracts, such as businesses that request searches.

Last Chance's website says drugs found at a search are given to "the closest Law Enforcement Department for proper disposal (no information is shared with the Department)." The Courier-Journal, however, reported that few police departments in the Louisville region have allowed Davis to drop off drugs found in their patrol area.

"We've had to leave narcotics in the hands of many parents," Davis said. "And that's sad. That's not what we're designed for."

Private drug patrol services using dogs to hunt for substances have cropped up throughout the nation, including Massachusetts and Colorado, which became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014.

Drug-sniffing dogs should be used with caution, advocates for compassionate drug rehabilitation say. Dog searches in schools can unnecessarily alarm children and teens, Whitney A. Taylor, director of public advocacy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, told the Boston Globe in 2014.

“Drug-sniffing dogs are often inaccurate and cause disruption and fear when they are deployed,” Taylor said. “If we are worried about young people using or abusing drugs, we need to stop treating them like criminals and start treating them with public health and educational approaches, including regular and fact-based conversations about drugs.”

Use of many illicit drugs, prescription opioids, cigarettes, alcohol and synthetic cannabinoids among teens in the US is on the decline, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that was released in December 2015. Marijuana use is stable while actually eclipsing cigarette use among 12th graders.

"We are heartened to see that most illicit drug use is not increasing, non-medical use of prescription opioids is decreasing, and there is improvement in alcohol and cigarette use rates," said Nora D. Volkow, MD, director of NIDA. "However, continued areas of concern are the high rate of daily marijuana smoking seen among high school students, because of marijuana’s potential deleterious effects on the developing brains of teenagers, and the high rates of overall tobacco products and nicotine containing e-cigarettes usage."