NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's Attorney General, Jonathan Skrmetti, said he is joining 17 other state attorneys general asking President Joe Biden to classify fentanyl as a "weapon of mass destruction." The other states include Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Guam and several others.
"As you well know, the national opioid crisis is not and has not been a static event. Instead, the opioid epidemic in this country has evolved over time from prescription opioids to heroin to synthetic opioids, namely fentanyl," the letter to the president said. "The purpose of this letter is to propose an unorthodox solution that may help abate or at least slow the crisis’s trajectory while also protecting Americans from a mass casualty event from fentanyl."
The letter goes on to say that if President Joe Biden concludes that he does not have the authority to declare fentanyl a WMD, they ask he urge Congress to do so instead.
By classifying fentanyl as a WMD, the Department of Homeland Security and DEA would need to respond to the opioid overdose epidemic with other agencies. That way, Skrmetti's office said the federal government would treat the opioid overdose epidemic as more than a problem with controlling narcotics.
"Thinking about curbing the problem in different, new ways may disrupt what the foreign companies and drug cartels involved are doing or at least make it more expensive or difficult," the letter said.
The letter addresses two specific concerns about classifying fentanyl as a WMD: that fentanyl is a drug control program concerning a chemical that has legitimate uses, and that fentanyl has not been widely weaponized.
First, it says that the number of lives that could be saved by classifying fentanyl as a WMD may be larger than those put in jeopardy by curtailing its medical use.
To address the second concern, the letter says that waiting "for some state or non-state actor to utilize it as weapon [sic] before it is classified as such seems to be the same type of reasoning that kept the government from investigating foreign nationals learning to fly, but not land planes in the lead up to September 11th."
Recently, state law enforcement leaders held a conference addressing concerns about fentanyl. They clarified that it needs to be ingested in order to cause harm, and people in the medical field who regularly handle it said it is impossible to experience a drug overdose just by touching or being near it.
Illicit fentanyl remains the main driver of the overdose epidemic, which the DEA warns is largely related to the illegal sale of counterfeit pills that have fentanyl slipped into them. Many people who overdosed using these counterfeit pills unknowingly ingested fentanyl because they are being illegally sold and marketed as legitimate prescription pills such as Adderall, Xanax or oxycodone.