DHS considering classifying fentanyl as weapon of mass destruction: report

DHS considering classifying fentanyl as weapon of mass destruction: report
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The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering classifying the opioid drug fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction, according to a report published Monday.

A memo obtained by military news outlet Task & Purpose said that the department could classify the drug as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) "when certain criteria are met."

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"Fentanyl's high toxicity and increasing availability are attractive to threat actors seeking nonconventional materials for a chemical weapons attack," James F. McDonnell, DHS assistant secretary for countering weapons of mass destruction, reportedly wrote in a memo to then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenElection security bills face GOP buzzsaw Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Five memorable moments from Sarah Sanders at the White House MORE.

"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 in the Feb. 22 memo with the subject line "Use of counter-WMD authorities to combat fentanyl."

Defense expert Dan Kaszeta told Task & Purpose that the opioid's use as a weapon is a "fringe scenario" because there are "literally dozens" of other chemicals that could be used for this purpose.

"It reads like somebody is laying the administrative background for trying to tap into pots of money for detecting WMD and decontaminating WMD," he said after reportedly reviewing the memo. "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

A DHS official told the Hill in a statement Tuesday that the agency is "constantly assessing new and emerging threats that may impact the nation’s security." The official declined to comment on the specifics of those discussions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a December report that fentanyl was the deadliest drug in the U.S. The opioid was involved in almost 29 percent of the 63,632 drug overdose deaths in 2016.