Homeland Security Considers Labeling Fentanyl A Weapon Of Mass Destruction

Bags of heroin, some laced with fentanyl, are displayed before a press conference regarding a major drug bust, at the office of the New York Attorney General, September 23, 2016 in New York City.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly considering classifying the opioid fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, according to memo obtained by Task & Purpose.

The memo, dated February 22, said officials have “long regarded fentanyl as a chemical weapons threat,” and that the drug would be labeled a WMD when “certain criteria” were met, CNBC reported.

James McDonnell, an assistant secretary at DHS, who allegedly wrote the memo, said the drug’s “high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical attack.”

McDonnell added that “as little as two to three milligrams of fentanyl can induce respiratory depression, respiratory arrest and possibly death.”

A Homeland Security official told The New York Post that the department was “constantly assessing new and emerging threats that may impact the nation’s security. We coordinate closely with partners at DOD, DOJ and throughout the interagency to better protect the American people,” adding that the DHS would not comment on any discussions held with any of these entities.

A senior defense official told Task & Purpose that an interagency planning event was a good idea, but added that it was far more likely to see threat actors use sarin or mustard gas as chemical weapons. The official also said that it was hard to envision a scenario where a nation-state would use fentanyl on the battlefield when the drug could be sold money to buy firearms or explosives.

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription drug used to treat pain that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. A synthetic version of the drug is also sold illegally in the form of a powder, or dropped on blotter paper, or made into tablets that look like other prescription medications. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl-related deaths in the U.S. jumped more than 1,000 percent from 2011 to 2016.

The synthetic fentanyl sold on the streets is the one most often associated with overdoses in the past few years. Drug dealers have been known to combine fentanyl with other drugs, like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamines.

The Trump administration has unveiled numerous programs designed to fight opioid abuse, including implementing an initiative to help stop the abuse of narcotics, as well as establishing programs aimed at helping those addicted to opioids. The administration has also invested in educating Americans about the dangers of opioid abuse, which included a partnership with the Truth Initiative and Ad Council.