In the US, the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) is considering designating the synthetic opioid Fentanyl, not just a chemical weapon, but a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). The DHS believes that the move would allow the government greater control over the drug.
At up to 100 times the strength of morphine, Fentanyl was developed over 60 years ago to treat extreme cancer pain. Medically, it can be administered in a number of ways – orally, by injection, topically via a skin patch or as a nasal spray. However, it has also become widely used recreationally, often mixed with heroin or cocaine to make them stronger, particularly if the user has developed a tolerance to the other drug.
Many people suffering a variety of forms of chronic pain are prescribed the drug.
Our client Paul, who suffers CRPS in his right foot and lower leg has been using Fentanyl patches for over two years now. “I’ve tried all the painkillers under the sun, but Fentanyl patches are the only thing that even remotely takes the edge off the pain” he says.
The US government believes that Fentanyl and its derivatives were behind 30,000 of the overdose deaths which occurred in the US in 2017, over 40% of the total. Even used medically, accidental overdose is a serious risk and there have been high profile fatalities, including the musicians Prince, Tom Petty and Mac Miller.
But the DHS say their primary concern in considering the WMD designation is Fentanyl’s potential to cause widespread fatalities in a terrorist chemical attack. The DHS believes the designation would provide a tool to help disrupt the drug’s widespread availability on the black market.
James F McDonnell, the DHS Assistant Secretary for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction, said “Fentanyl’s high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack.”
War on opioids
The potential WMD designation has been viewed widely in the US as part of their governments’ war on opioids. Of late, Fentanyl has become a particular focus for them. The US media has been full recently of stories of arrests relating to the supply of Fentanyl, including of a number of clinicians who have prescribed the drug.