The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly weighing whether to label fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.
An internal memo obtained by the military news outlet Task & Purpose said the powerful synthetic opioid, typically 50 to 100 times more potent than average painkillers, could face such a classification “when certain criteria are met,” including the makeup and quantity.
Prepared for then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen by James McDonnell, DHS assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, the February memo notes that officials have “long regarded fentanyl as a chemical weapons threat.”
“Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack,” wrote McDonnell.
“In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that ‘fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapons attack by extremists or criminals.”
McDonnell, a longtime Homeland Security official appointed to his current post by President Trump in May 2018, noted that “as little as” two or three milligrams of the substance can trigger respiratory depression, respiratory arrest and even death.
“The CWMD Office an assist in countering fentanyl and its analogues through: managing and developing requirements for technology and development, supporting the deployment of sensors (i.e. detection technology), and providing analytical expertise to the operating components,” McDonnell added.
Trump in 2017 declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency after tens of thousands of overdose deaths across the country were linked to the deadly drug in recent years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a December report dubbed fentanyl the deadliest drug in the United States. In 2016, it was involved in almost 29% of 63,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States — a 1,000% spike since 2011. The following year, more than 28,000 United States citizens died after overdosing on the drug.
DHS official in a statement to CNBC said the agency is “constantly assessing new and emerging threats that may impact the nation’s security.
“We coordinate closely with partners at [the Department of Defense], [Department of Justice], and throughout the interagency to better protect the American people.”
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