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Meet Apollo: MHP's K-9 trooper keeping fentanyl off the streets of Montana

Montana Highway Patrol K-9 trooper Apollo
Posted at 7:35 PM, Jun 12, 2024

BOULDER — BUTTE — Fentanyl has been a major problem for Montana in recent years, but one fluffy K-9 trooper is helping to keep the streets clean—and he’s just using his nose to do it.

"He’s made our jobs extremely easier. He’s a tool used to locate narcotics. In his tenure of six years on the road he’s probably seized a little over a thousand pounds of narcotics," says Sergeant James Beck, a K-9 handler with the Montana Highway Patrol.

Sgt. Beck has been partners with a German Shepherd named Apollo for the past six years. Apollo is one of three K-9s trained to sniff out fentanyl. But he is the only police dog in the state that is certified to find fentanyl, methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Beck and Apollo are based in Butte.

"He's an extreme asset. Even since he's just been certified, since April, he's had several significant seizures. We just had one last week that was over 30,000 pills," says Beck.

Beck says the initial cost to start up a K-9 unit ranges from $15,000 to $20,000 and includes all the gear needed but does not include the cost of a K-9 cruiser. Beck says the cost is worth it because dogs like Apollo can do things that humans cannot.

"Dogs' noses, they are about 40 times stronger than humans. Everything has an odor profile. What we may not be able to smell, they can absolutely smell. Fentanyl has a very distinct odor profile to itself and when we train these dogs, it’s on that odor profile," Beck says.

According to the Montana Department of Justice, through March 2024 a special drug task force seized over 160,000 dosage units of fentanyl in Montana.

From January 2024 through June, Montana state troopers seized 31,000 fentanyl pills, $89,000 in cash, roughly 87 pounds of meth, and nine firearms. So far this year, the state crime lab reports 22 overdose deaths involving fentanyl, but the statewide total is likely higher as the crime lab only verifies deaths that involve an autopsy.

"When I started nine years ago, we seen a lot of methamphetamine and a lot of heroin. Heroin started slowly trickling away when the fentanyl scene came into play about three and a half, four years ago," says Beck.

Sgt. Beck says fentanyl is the number one drug in Montana and where he and Apollo find fentanyl, meth is usually present. He says fentanyl is also being stamped into new forms beyond the blue M-30 pills and has been found in ibuprofen and Advil.

"You know, when it comes to street drugs you don’t know what you’re taking. You might think it’s something and it’s something completely different. It could be that fatal overdose. So, I would encourage people not to take anything from anybody other than a doctor," Beck says.