U.S. Customs and Border Protection has seized so much fentanyl coming over the border that there is now enough of the powerful narcotic in storage to kill 794 million people, Chicago’s WLS-TV reports. The agency’s own agents are at risk of fatal exposure to the drug.
In 2015, according to a report released Friday by the Homeland Security Department’s Inspector General, the agency seized 70 pounds of the deadly narcotic. So far this year, the agency has seized 3,500 pounds of it.
A dose as small as two milligrams is lethal for most adults, meaning that the agency has seized enough fentanyl that, according to the math, the amount it’s seized can kill 794 million people. That’s enough to kill every American twice over, with enough left over to kill every last person in Russia.
So deadly is the drug that accidentally inhaling it could be fatal.
Meanwhile, all of that fentanyl is sitting, as evidence, in storage lockers here and there, as the criminal cases of the smugglers who brought the drug over the border work their way through the courts. And the agents tasked with guarding, and handling, the powerful drug often don’t have the antidote readily available.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is kept in police departments and emergency rooms across the country. Used quickly and properly, it can save the life of someone who overdoses on fentanyl or any other opiate. Unfortunately, Border Patrol agents often either don’t have any, or don’t have quick access to it. In some cases, the life-saving doses of Narcan were kept locked away in safes, and agents didn’t know the combination. In others, there simply wasn’t any.
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According to the report, that puts the lives of agents at risk.
“With the recent rise in fentanyl seizures, CBP staff now routinely handle fentanyl more than ever. However, without easy access to naloxone in case of exposure, CBP is unnecessarily jeopardizing the lives, health, and safety of its staff,” read the report.
It remains unclear, as of this writing, if any Border Patrol agents have been sickened or killed via accidental exposure to fentanyl.
The Drug Enforcement Administration recommends that, at a bare minimum, anyone tasked with potentially working with fentanyl, such as a law enforcement officer, wear latex gloves and do their work in a well-ventilated area.
Across the country, fentanyl has become the latest iteration of the ongoing opioid epidemic. In 2011 and 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 1,600 Americans died each year, on average, from fentanyl overdoses. By 2016, that number had grown to 18,335.