The Department of Homeland Security is considering a proposal to label fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, according to a new report.
Task & Purpose, a military news outlet, obtained a DHS memo circulated in February that outlined the idea to use the WMD terminology and guidelines to regulate the highly potent, synthetic opioid that has killed scores of people in recent years.
James F. McDonnell, the DHS assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, wrote a memo in February to then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen with the idea.
"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."
McDonnell added classifying fentanyl as a WMD could also help DHS's efforts at the border and other ports of entry to stop the flow of drugs entering the United States.
"[Counter-WMD] Office efforts will focus on quantities and configurations that could be used as mass casualty weapons," he wrote in the memo. "However, many activities, such as support to fentanyl interdiction and detection efforts, would tangentially benefit broader DHS and interagency counter-opioid efforts."
"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."
Close to 50,000 people in the U.S. died in 2017 of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than 28,000 of those deaths were caused by synthetic opioids.
Much of the fentanyl in the U.S. comes from China, which recently classified all varieties of the drug as controlled substances.
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