According to an internal memo, the Department of Homeland Security may classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction “when certain criteria are met.”
Dated February 22nd, 2019 the informational memorandum, offered background on the drug and how some elements of the U.S. government see fentanyl as a potential “mass casualty weapon.”
“Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack,” wrote McDonnell, a longtime Homeland Security executive appointed by President Donald Trump to lead the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Office in May 2018.
“In July 2018, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that ‘…fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack by extremists or criminals,” he wrote.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug has ended up on city streets across the nation and is the subject of great concern because of the sheer number of overdoses caused by the drug.
Fentanyl-related deaths in the United States spiked more than 1,000% from 2011 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, more than 28,000 U.S. citizens fatally overdosed on the drug.
However, the Department of Homeland Security is concerned that the drug itself could be weaponized and used in a chemical attack.
The memo points to the fact that “as little as” 2 to 3 milligrams of fentanyl can induce respiratory depression, respiratory arrest and possibly death.
Further, the memo also detailed that the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office would only focus on quantities and configurations of the drug that could be used in mass casualty weapons.