Pharmacist offers his expertise, pets to officers

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- As a clinical pharmacist at Charleston Area Medical Center, Mike O'Neil's job is make sure the proper drugs get from the shelf to the appropriate patient.

But with his drug-sniffing dogs Rocky and Dakota in tow he goes on a different mission.

He is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week receiving calls from law enforcement in several counties. He does private searches at homes, businesses and schools for no charge.

O'Neil assists law enforcement agencies with their efforts to fight drugs and has done a lot of work with Lincoln County sheriff's deputies.

Chief Deputy Jerry Bowman said he has worked with O'Neil for about two years. "Every time that we get a chance to issue a search warrant, we try to get the dogs out here with us," he said.

He wasn't certain how much the dogs have increased the amount of drugs found, but he said it was "quite a bit."

Sometimes officers miss drugs that the dogs sniff out and find.

Because of his training in clinical pharmacy, O'Neil also often finds drugs that other officers miss. Most officers are used to looking for marijuana and cocaine; O'Neil focuses on illegal prescription drugs. His presence on searches has increased arrests, he said.

"As a pharmacist, I've always had an interest in inappropriate drug use," he said.

O'Neil always knew he would work in the medical field.

He said his father was a pharmacist. O'Neil studied clinical pharmacy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has been a clinical pharmacist for 13 years. It is his expertise and interest in that field that got him interested in using his dog, Rocky, to look for drugs.

He does routine drug searches in schools. Dogs are useful for searching in schools because "if you wanted to search a set of lockers, one dog can clear several hundred lockers in minutes."

"I've got a 13-year-old and I don't want to invade his privacy," O'Neil said. With a dog, "I can go through the room without opening a drawer in 15 minutes."

He has two dogs, and both are certified with the West Virginia Police Canine Association. Rocky is a pet, and Dakota is a working dog.

His dogs are aggressive indicators, which means that when they find the source of the smell they scratch or bite. Some dogs are trained to be passive indicators.

That means when they find the source of the smell they sit down.

O'Neil said if you are going through customs and a dog sits down next to you it is probably not a good sign. Most customs dogs are trained to be passive indicators.

The movie scenes of drug smugglers masking the odor of drugs by hiding them in coffee is misleading.

"Not many things can be used to mask the odor of drugs," O'Neil said.

The dogs are selective to the certain odor and are trained to find it. O'Neil said they can smell 1,000 to a million times better than humans.

He said he also does a lot of demonstrations in the community.

He hopes to teach awareness about police dogs and reduce the fear that people might have of them.

"My return to the community is through my expertise," he said.

O'Neil has served as an expert witness for state and federal law enforcement for six years. His specialty is testifying in cases dealing with pharmacists giving or selling narcotics.

(iSyndicate; Charleston Daily Mail; Nov. 24, 2000) Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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