The U.S. Department of Homeland Security might classify fentanyl, a highly addictive pain reliever that’s at the center of American’s opioid epidemic, as a weapon of mass destruction, according to a leaked document obtained by military-focused news site Task & Purpose.
Task & Purpose obtained an internal DHS memo titled “Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl,” that was prepared by James F. McDonnell, the DHS assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, who describes the opioid drug as a possible “mass casualty weapon” that is “attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack.”
McDonnell is reportedly basing this assessment on a judgment from the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate from July of 2018. But whatever report McDonnell is referencing hasn’t been made public.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that can be anywhere from 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and its use has skyrocketed in the 2010s. The pain medication is prescribed by doctors for severe pain, but it’s become popular as an illicit drug because it’s incredibly cheap to produce. Roughly 59 percent of opioid-related deaths in 2017 were caused by fentanyl, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In 2010, it was just 14 percent.
Why would DHS want to classify a painkiller as something akin to a nuclear weapon? The short answer is that everything is just stupid now, as the Trump regime becomes more authoritarian with each passing day. (Seriously, President Trump just openly talks about getting rid of judges and people hardly bat an eye.) But the long answer might have to do with how funds are allocated at the Department of Homeland Security. If DHS can classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction it can take money that was primarily intended for critical national security initiatives and reallocate those dollars toward what is essentially drug enforcement and perhaps even border protection, a topic that’s particularly important right now to our racist president.
For their part, DHS won’t confirm or deny the plan to classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.
“DHS is constantly assessing new and emerging threats that may impact the nation’s security,” a DHS official who didn’t want to be named told Gizmodo via email. “We coordinate closely with partners at DOD, DOJ, and throughout the interagency to better protect the American people. We will not comment on the specifics of these discussions.”
Yes, it’s entirely possible that terrorists could use fentanyl for a chemical weapons attack. But they could also use LSD or mescaline or magic mushrooms or literally any other drug that humans use recreationally or medically. There was a ton of interest in how these drugs might be used for offensive purposes during the first Cold War, and there’s no doubt that plenty of people are imagining ways to use psychotropic drugs in the New Cold War.
“Working in deep secrecy, U.S. scientists almost overnight have developed an arsenal of fantastic new weapons, variously known as psycho-chemicals and ‘madness’ gases, which could virtually paralyze an enemy nation without firing a shot,” as the Associated Press described in 1959.
Task & Purpose has published the full memo on its website, and in so doing has taken some heat from government officials. The story behind the story, in this case, is even more interesting, as the author of the original report, Paul Szoldra, took to Twitter yesterday to explain that DHS was very unhappy about the article.
“Just got a call from a DHS spokeswoman to complain about my story today, on the agency’s consideration of fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. She argued about my inclusion of the memo in the story for about 2 minutes, before saying ‘obviously this is all off record,’” Szoldra explained.
The DHS spokesperson told Szoldra that the memo was “classified,” despite the fact that it really isn’t. The memo is simply labeled as “For Official Use Only” which doesn’t make it classified. And even if it was, he’s a reporter who has every right to publish documents that are of interest to the public. Szoldra refused to take the memo down, even as he got pressure from the government.
“...we went around in circles,” Szoldra said. “I said I wasn’t taking anything down. My argument: I reached out for comment last week, gave you adequate time to respond to a bunch of questions, and you completely declined to comment.”