A coalition of 18 states has asked President Joe Biden to classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.
The Attorney Generals sent a letter to the president saying that the classification could protect American citizens from a “mass casualty event.”
“As you well know, the national opioid crisis is not and has not been a static event,” the group wrote in a Sept. 14 letter. “Instead, the opioid epidemic in this country has evolved over time from prescription opioids to heroin to synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl. … We ask that you consider classifying illegal fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction or, if you conclude you do not have authority to do so, urge Congress to pass legislation to do so.”
The letter’s co-singers represent both Democrat- and Republican-led states.
The AGs acknowledged that the proposal was an “unorthodox solution,” but stressed the urgency of the threat of overdosing and the devastation the substance has already had on communities, especially those already hard hit by the opioid crisis.
“Enough fentanyl has been seized in the last year to kill every man, woman, and child in the United States several times over,” the AGs told Biden. “Indeed, given fentanyl’s lethality, the amounts being interdicted and seized are inconsistent with what one would expect from drug trafficking activity and are indicative of either purposeful conspiracy to murder Americans or an effort to stockpile a dangerous chemical weapon.”
Approximately 90,000 people died from a drug overdose between November 1, 2019 and Oct. 31, 2020 – 54.7% of which were caused by synthetic opioids, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency. Synthetic opioids are the primary driver of the increase in total overdose death in the country.
More than 105,000 Americans died from a drug overdose between October 2021 and October 2022. The DEA has said 66%, or an estimated 69,000, were due to synthetic opioids.
In April, the DEA formally warned the public that mass-overdose events involving fentanyl would increase.
“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. Drug traffickers are driving addiction, and increasing their profits, by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl, until it’s too late.”
Illicit fentanyl is produced in China and trafficked into the United States through the country’s border with Mexico, per NPR.
Customs and Border Patrol reported a 4,000% increase in fentanyl seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border since 2018. In August of 2022 alone, CBP agents seized 3.5 million fentanyl pills in Arizona. The drugs are increasingly not being seized at ports of entry but in remote desert areas by “brazen smugglers who are exploiting stretched federal resources,” states NBC News.
Notably, pharmaceutical fentanyl that is legally produced can be prescribed to treat severe pain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention differentiates the two substances and notes that the “most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose, and death in the U.S. are linked to illegally made fentanyl.”
Florida AG Ashley Moody is leading the state effort to have illicitly produced fentanyl classified as a WMD.
“Designating fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction would require the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration to coordinate with other agencies or parts of agencies including the Department of Defense about fentanyl,” she wrote in a July letter to the Biden Administration. “The federal government already works to disrupt the supply chains of other chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapons—it’s not hard to imagine that similar tactics could be used to reduce the flow of illicit fentanyl into the U.S. through cartels in Mexico—and save countless American lives.”
She has the support of Attorneys General in Connecticut, Arkansas, Guam, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Although the states recently reached large settlements with major pharmaceutical companies that the AG said will give them the “resources to battle this crisis,” the AGs believe federal intervention is a necessary step in preventing the flow of fentanyl into the US.
“Treating this solely as a narcotics control problem has failed to curb the proliferation of increasing quantities of chemicals that can cause a mass casualty event,” the group wrote to the president. “Your own DEA Administrator has called fentanyl ‘the deadliest threat [the DEA] ha[s] ever seen.’ We should treat it as such — thus bold action must be taken.”
“We must not sit idly by until a terrorist chooses to inflict harm using this substance on a large group of Americans — our countrymen are already dying from this poison,” the state attorneys added. “We cannot wait for tragedy to strike when proactive steps can be taken now to preserve American lives.”
Colorado Congresswoman Lauren Boebert introduced the “Fentanyl is a WMD” Act on June 13. The policy has the support of nine co-sponsors – Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar, Texas Congressman Troy Nehls, Illinois Congresswoman Mary Miller, North Carolina Congressman Dan Bishop, Florida Congressman Bill Posey, South Carolina Congressman Ralph Norman, Georgia Congressman Andrew Cylde, Louisiana Congressman Clay Higgins, and Alabama Congressman Barry Moore.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security, where it was then referred to the Subcommittee on Oversight, Management, and Accountability and the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.