Fentanyl is so powerful that a few milligrams can be fatal. It would take about 40 pounds of fentanyl to kill everyone in New York City and 1,515 pounds to kill almost all Americans. This killer opioid is so potent, according to Bloomberg it could be used as a “weapon of mass destruction,” adding that national security experts are becoming increasingly alarmed at the prospect of it being used in the next terror attack.
A silent weapon of mass destruction: Fentanyl has already appeared on American streets, becoming the most dangerous drug blamed for sparking a public health crisis that has crushed the productivity of the workforce. American deaths linked to fentanyl increased more than 50% to 29,406 last year, from 19,413 in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
Relatively easy to make, the drug is mass produced in China and Mexico, then pumped into American communities. Additionally, Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin. In its most active form, called carfentanil, a small dose can tranquilize an elephant.
Law enforcement agencies have been warned across the country to handle fentanyl with extreme caution; some officers have almost overdosed after getting the substance on their skin.
Even being near the substance is a significant reason why national security experts sound the alarm at the prospect of it being used in the next terror attack. The drug is “a significant threat to national security,” Michael Morell, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Obama, wrote last year. “It is a weapon of mass destruction.”
Bloomberg said the use of fentanyl as a biochemical weapon is nothing new. In 2002, 50 terrorists held more than 800 hostages in a crowded theater in Moscow, demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. After days of failed negotiations, Russian special forces pumped the theater with fentanyl, to incapacitate the attackers, though more than 100 hostages died.
“As a tool of terror, the drug would work best in a closed space,” said Daniel Gerstein, a senior policy researcher at Rand Corp. who served as acting undersecretary in the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate in the Obama administration. “Open-air release likely wouldn’t be as effective, as the drug could become too diluted,” he said.
“If ground-up fentanyl is placed on everyday objects, people could easily put their fingers in their mouths or rub their eyes and have a deadly reaction,” said Josh Bloom, the American Council on Science and Health official.”
Law enforcement officers and emergency medical officials have not been trained for a biochemical weapons attack involving Fentanyl. Nevertheless, these same agencies can barely keep up with thousands of opioid overdoses across the country on a daily basis.
Overdoses of the drug are extremely hard to reverse with Narcan nasal spray. Narcan is carried by law enforcement officers and paramedics, especially in hard-hit regions by the most recent opioid epidemic. Frequently, people overdosing on fentanyl require multiple doses of Narcan.
The U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development (known as Barda), is developing medical countermeasures to counter the opioid crisis. In September, it signed a $4.6 million contract with Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc. to produce a reliable single-dose fentanyl antidote.
“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 Barda Director Rick Bright. He said repeat doses of Narcan, could be challenging to administer in a terror attack.
Because the US is already in a fentanyl crisis, likened to a silent weapon of mass that has decimated communities across the country, US officials are now concerned that the drug could be used in upcoming terror attacks.