Bipartisan attorneys general call on Biden to classify fentanyl as 'weapon of mass destruction'

A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general on Thursday called on President Joe Biden to declare fentanyl a “weapon of mass destruction,” urging the government to respond to a nationwide increase in overdose deaths.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen (R) and the top law enforcement officials from 17 other states and territories demanded that Biden have the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration coordinate with the Department of Defense and other agencies to combat fentanyl overdoses.

According to the attorneys general, more than 75,000 Americans died from overdose of synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl, in the 12-month period ending in February 2022. Drug overdose is now the number-one cause of death among U.S. adults ages 18-45, Knudsen's office said in a press statement.

“Enough fentanyl has been seized in the last year to kill every man, woman, and child in the United States several times over,” the attorneys general wrote in a letter to the president. “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.”

The attorneys general suggested that fentanyl's low cost of production, lethality, and widespread availability make it “an ideal choice for bad actors to use as a chemical weapon” that could cause “mass casualty events.”

“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. 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,” the letter informs Biden.

“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 attorneys general demand. “We cannot wait for tragedy to strike when proactive steps can be taken now to preserve American lives. We urge you take immediate and decisive action and declare fentanyl a weapon of mass destruction.”

The letter is signed by attorneys general from 18 states and territories, including: Florida, Connecticut, Arkansas, Guam, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

The White House, Department of Homeland Security, and Drug Enforcement Administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Late last month, the DEA advised the public of an “alarming trend” in brightly-colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills being found in at least 18 states. Called “rainbow fentanyl” in news reports, DEA said drug cartels appear to be marketing the highly addictive and potentially lethal drug to children and young adults by making it look like candy.

“Rainbow fentanyl — fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes — is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said on Aug. 31. “The men and women of the DEA are relentlessly working to stop the trafficking of rainbow fentanyl and defeat the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in the United States.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Just two milligrams of the drug, equivalent to 10-15 grains of table salt, is enough to kill an adult.

DEA officials have said fentanyl is the deadliest drug threat facing this country. CDC data shows 107,622 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, with 66% of those deaths linked to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

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