DHS Considering Classifying Fentanyl as Weapon of Mass Destruction

THE DEPARTMENT OF Homeland Security is reportedly considering classifying fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.


According to an internal memo obtained by military news outlet Task & Purpose, the department is weighing whether to classify the opioid drug "when certain criteria are met," such as when it is transported in such a quantity and configured in such a way that it could potentially be used as a weapon.

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The memo, dated Feb. 22, 2019, was prepared by James McDonnell, the assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, for then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. It states that the drug's "high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking non conventional materials for a chemical weapons attack."


According to the memo, the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate assessed that "fentanyl is very likely a viable option for a chemical weapon attack."


Fentanyl is a fast-acting pain reliever that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and can be hundreds of times stronger than heroin. It can be deadly at much smaller doses than other opioids. President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in 2017 amid tens of thousands of people dying from overdoses.


McDonnell states in the memo that current plans to counter weapons of mass destruction do not focus on the drug as a target. However, the memo states that the office could assist in countering the drug by managing and developing technology and supporting the implementation of detection technology.


"Additionally, DHS/CWMD is in a position to help coordinate and leverage efforts from across DHS and the broader federal CWMD enterprise toward the fentanyl problem set," the memo states. "Relevant activities including using tools from the CWMD community for supply chain interruption, to include interdiction and targeting as is currently done for other WMD."


However, Dan Kaszeta, a defense expert, told Task & Purpose that the threat of the drug being used as a weapon is a "fringe scenario" since there are "literally dozens" of other available toxic chemicals that could be used.


"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," Kaszeta told the website. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."


The department has not offered any comment on the memo or its contents.


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