'The Department of Homeland Security is considering classifying fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, or WMD, according to an internal memo attained by military news outlet Task & Purpose.
The memo said the painkiller would be labeled a WMD “when certain criteria are met,” and that federal officials have “long regarded fentanyl as a chemical weapons threat.”
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is prescribed to treat severe pain but is also sold illegally in the U.S. Fentanyl-related deaths in the country spiked more than 1,000% from 2011 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, more than 28,000 U.S. citizens fatally overdosed on the drug.
The drug’s high toxicity and increasing availability are “attractive” to potential adversaries “seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical attack,” James McDonnell, an assistant secretary at DHS, wrote in the memo, according to Task & Purpose.
McDonnell wrote that “as little as” 2 to 3 milligrams of fentanyl can induce respiratory depression, respiratory arrest and possibly death.
The memo said the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction office would only focus on quantities and configurations of the drug that could be used as mass casualty weapons.
However, the memo leaves out some key details, according to Dr. Michael Kuhlman, chief scientist specializing in WMD issues at Battelle, a science and technology nonprofit organization.
“What the memo doesn’t spell out the details of is: In what quantities and what do they mean by configurations?” Kuhlman said.'
Read more: Homeland Security is reportedly considering labeling fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction
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