Officials within the Department of Homeland Security are discussing whether to classify the drug fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, according to a published report.
The website Task & Purpose said it had received a copy of a Feb. 22 memo from James F. McDonnell, DHS assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, in which he makes the case for considering the drug as a weapon of mass destruction.
As it is, a December report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fentanyl was involved in almost 29 percent of America’s 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016, according to The Hill.
In the memo, McDonnell talks about fentanyl in a different light, as a possible “mass casualty weapon.”
“Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack,” McDonnell wrote.
“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.
“Within the past couple years, there has been a reinvigorated interest in addressing fentanyl and its analogues as WMD materials due to the ongoing opioid crisis,” McDonnell added
In its report about the memo, The Hill said it was told by an unnamed DHS official that DHS is “constantly assessing new and emerging threats that may impact the nation’s security.”
Dan Kaszeta, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense expert, told Task & Purpose that the memo sounded more like an effort to tap department funding than a sincere concern.
“It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD,” Kaszeta said. “It’s an interdepartmental play for money, that’s all it is.”
However, McDonnell claimed Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, had “proposed formally designating fentanyl as a WMD material.”
A spokesperson for the Southern Command would not discuss Faller’s opinion on whether fentanyl is a weapon of mass destruction.
Others have said even if the threat is not yet a clear and present danger, it exists.
“Fentanyl-based drugs have been used in conflicts in other countries, so we know it’s possible, and we need to be ready to save lives and protect Americans from potential health security threats,” said Rick Bright, director of the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, according to Bloomberg.
Roger Crystal, chief executive officer of Opiant, which is working on a fentanyl antidote, said the danger is that there is so much of the drug around, it could be weaponized.
“It doesn’t take much more than a half-competent chemist to be able to manufacture it,” Crystal said. “And it’s cheaper to manufacture than heroin.”
“Because we’re in a fentanyl crisis, there’s more fentanyl around, and for that reason the ability to get hold of it and getting it into the wrong hands isn’t that hard,” Crystal said.
In May, for example, a load of the drug totaling 118 pounds was found when a mail truck was stopped by a Nebraska state trooper for erratic driving.
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