Fentanyl could have devastating effects if used as WMD: officials

Mike Montone
April 22, 2019 - 11:18 am
 Stash of heroin drugs on table in transparent bags with money in piles

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WASHINGTON (1010 WINS) -- Fentanyl has been blamed for tens of thousands of overdose deaths a year, leading officials to mull classifying the synthetic opioid as a weapon of mass destruction.

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National security officials have long worried about fentanyl's potential to cause widespread lethality in terror attacks, CNN reports. Now, DHS and Pentagon officials are considering an official WMD classification to help disrupt the drug's black market availability.

"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," the DHS assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, James F. McDonnell, wrote in a memo.

Stemming the flow of fentanyl has been a centerpiece of President Donald Trump's fight against the opioid crisis.

The drug does have a legitimate use as a painkiller, and is produced in China. It can be bought on the dark web, and drug cartels and other distributors have been known to use to cut other drugs.

Aside from fentanyl's role in overdose deaths, officials say it could also be weaponized with devastating results. It was used by the Russian military in 2002 when Chechen rebels took over a Moscow theatre. Dozens of hostages died along with terrorists, when fentanyl gas was pumped into the building's ventilation system.

"That's when we at the Pentagon started to realize that militaries were developing fentanyl analogues as a form of chemical weapon and that we needed to start working on countermeasures," former Pentagon official Andy Weber said.

Experts worry it could be distributed through air and water systems.

"It's as bad as it seems," said a government consultant who requested anonymity. "Because of its strength, it's like nothing else that we've seen, beyond radiation, nuclear, chemical and high explosive. It's something that is potentially very, very dangerous."

Designation as a WMD would mean additional resources would be made available to prevent and prosecute fentanyl distribution.

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