Fentanyl Is Not a Nuke, and Drug Dealers Are Not Terrorists


Could fentanyl be a weapon of mass destruction? That was the prompt for a Department of Homeland Security memo that became public in April, exploring the question of whether the prescription painkiller should be treated like the functional equivalent of a suitcase nuke "when certain criteria are met." What seems absurd—powerful black-market fentanyl has been blamed for a spike in overdose deaths, but it's not exactly sarin gas—actually hews to a perverse bureaucratic logic.

Government focus on weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) is down, while interest and resources for fighting fentanyl are up. Meanwhile, the powers granted to authorities for national security are expansive and numerous, and they enjoy special exceptions to protections involving due process, accountability, and transparency. Bundling the two is the administrative equivalent of an American heiress marrying an English lord with a crumbling manor house.

Or as WMD expert Dan Kaszeta told Task & Purpose, the publication that initially acquired the memo: "It's an interdepartmental play for money, that's all it is."

This is far from being an isolated incident. Indeed, it's a safe bet that any expansion of law enforcement powers authorized in the name of national security will soon be used in the war on drugs. We are on the verge of being overrun by vice cops in olive drab cosplay, and our lawmakers are accelerating the process under the guise of protecting Americans from war and terror.

The biggest proof point for that claim has been the evolution of the PATRIOT Act, passed during the panic immediately after the terror attacks of September 11.

As far back as the law's 2005 reauthorization, Sen. Russ Feingold (D–Wis.) raised this objection to so-called sneak and peek warrants under Section 213 of the law: "Don't be fooled for a minute into believing that this power is needed to investigate terrorism or espionage. It's not. Section 213 is a criminal provision that could apply in whatever kind of criminal investigation the government has undertaken. In fact, most sneak and peek warrants are issued for drug investigations."

He was right. Sneak and peek is exactly what it sounds like. It allows law enforcement to enter your property, search your belongings, and even take stuff—all without notifying you. The law does not require that police prove there is a national security interest; it can be used in any federal investigation, including those for misdemeanors. When it was initially debated, however briefly, the justification for such broad discretionary powers came down to "trust us." The notion was that such warrants would be issued only in rare ticking-time-bomb situations or other emergency scenarios where secrecy was needed to forestall great harm. In fact, such warrants are employed routinely in drug cases—thousands have been granted with minimal judicial oversight—and only rarely to pursue actual terrorists like those who executed the 9/11 attacks.

Flash forward to 2019, and sneak and peek is back in the news. The hidden cameras that were installed at the Orchid of Asia Day Spa in Jupiter, Florida—the ones that caught New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft receiving a massage and possibly other services—were placed there, without the knowledge of the spa owners or the people being filmed, under PATRIOT Act authority.

In the end, there were not even any sex trafficking charges filed in that case, much less any charges related to national security. Powers granted under the specter of a national existential threat are now used in the course of ordinary vice busts, targeted not at terrorist masterminds but at stoners and septuagenarian horndogs.

Or consider the Stingray, a device that lets authorities gather information about cellphone use without the user's permission or knowledge. The initial development and approval of the technology were entirely under the auspices of national security—those were the terms under which the Federal Communications Commission approved it. The suitcase-sized Stingray simulates a cell tower and makes authorities privy to phone calls and text messages. But the utterly unsurprising consequence of law enforcement officers having a powerful new tool to aid their terrorism investigations was that they used it to aid all sorts of investigations.

And—this is important—the courts didn't stop them. Judges rarely throw up roadblocks to this kind of abuse, which is unfortunate, because they are pretty much the last and only line of defense.

For the most part, law enforcement doesn't even need to bother to make the case that the drug trade is connected to actual national security. They simply take the powers granted to them for defense reasons and run with them.

But Donald Trump's administration has figured out an even faster method than gradually assimilating powers intended for terror investigations into the everyday police state: Rather than push the envelope of the existing law, just redefine the terms. Which brings us back to fentanyl as a WMD. If everything is a matter of national security, then every incursion of due process, civil liberties, and privacy is easily justified.

In March, Trump announced that his administration would consider designating Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations. The notion that the national security of a global superpower rests on the interdiction of marijuana, meth, and opioids would be laughable if it weren't taken so seriously by the powers that be in Washington. But many politicians have strong incentives to go along with the farce, because they want to be seen as either tough on terror, tough on crime, or friendly to the powerful law enforcement lobby.

The "president should simply declare the human trafficking cartels who are profiteering off the illegal immigration surge to be terrorist organizations and treated accordingly," said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, in a statement about the "severe" conditions at the border. "It is now endangering our national security, and those in Mexico who are facilitating the trafficking need to be dealt with the full force of the law." This followed a previous statement in which Manning said "Congress has failed to adequately secure the border, leaving President Trump with little option but to use Congress' limited grant of authority to reprogram uncommitted military construction funds to build the wall and other fencing needed to keep drugs, gangs and human trafficking at bay."

Again, this is nothing new. In 2018, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon called the drug trade a "significant threat" to national security. But from the very early days of the war on drugs, the rhetoric of national strength has been interwoven with justifications for incursions on liberty.

At the root of all of this is the idea, shared by many Americans, that if a problem is bad enough, the waiving of privacy protections and other constitutional safeguards is justified. It's the same sentiment that Trump and Barack Obama before him displayed when they chose to disregard congressional authority in their decision making about immigration and border control. It's the animating idea behind the Green New Deal and every call for widespread crackdowns on gun ownership after a shooting. It's also the justification for restrictions on trade, from steel to sugar, in the name of self-sufficiency and American autonomy.

To be clear: One can believe that drug interdiction is an important national priority (I don't) and that citizens should be willing to bear great costs to slow or stop the flow of narcotics into the country (I don't) without thinking that the special exceptions to civil liberties granted to go after terrorists in the wake of 9/11 should be applied to random Mexican drug dealers.

It is immodest to name a maxim after oneself. Ideally one's friends—or more likely one's enemies—should do it. But sometimes shorthand is useful, so I'd like to propose we call this Mangu-Ward's Law: Policies designed to stop terrorists usually end up being used to try to stop people from getting high or getting laid.

NEXT: David Bergland, R.I.P.

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  1. Want to bring down fentanyl demand? Let doctors prescribe the opiates people actually need without the govt. getting up their ass about it.

    1. Very true. Making drugs legal would wipe out the black market also.

    2. And then develop a drug and process to help people beat the dependency when they decide they want that. You’d have identified most every addict and eliminated every drug cartel in a month (sure, the criminal outfits might still be there but they wouldn’t be drug cartels because there would be no viable market for drugs).

      1. Drug addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

        Got a cure for PTSD?

        1. Death?

          And given that “trauma” has now been redefined to include any unpleasant or sad experience, then we all have PTSD. Can we now blame every human action on that?

          Or maybe PTSD and every other human affliction and failing all derive from the same thing: our brains are fundamentally flawed, and life is not fair.

          1. PTSD is a real thing, though, even if some people abuse the idea of trauma (probably because they want to attribute every human action to it; a new version of false consciousness).

            1. Actually, when one is leaving the military, you are essentially offered a smorgasbord of maladies for which to garner compensation. PTSD is one of them; you can be “diagnosed” even if you never left a desk job.

        2. MSimon
          June.8.2019 at 9:56 am
          “Drug addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.”
          You made the claim. Back it up. Or STFU.

        3. Absolutely. We Brits can it a ‘stiff upper lip’.
          Americans call it ‘shit happens – get over it’

          PTSD is a first world problem. Starving people in Africa and other third world countries are far more worried about where there next meal is coming from or will this be the day another one of their children will die.

          The way to get over your bad days is to put your life into perspective and compare it to the poorest people in the world. Most people blow their problems way out of proportion.

          Get over yourselves and consider how lucky you really are.

        4. Got a cure for PTSD?


  2. You have to wonder why some much effort can be put into stopping drugs and not in helping people with drug addictions. Ron Paul once asked “if heroin was legal would you want to shoot up?”. I certainly would not. Maybe before we give up our freedoms its time to ask ourselves is this the way we want to address addiction. Maybe its better to give people a prescription for fentanyl or heroin and then figure how to get the person to need less.

    1. I think anyone who starts shooting up drugs which are provably going to shorten your life dramatically and cost you every penny you have are beyond stupid. This is a self inflicted problem and these people deserve little sympathy. We all have problems, but the vast majority of us don’t turn to heroin or cocaine or any of the other multitude of addictive, life destroying narcotics Why should tax payers money go towards curing these people who quite often relapse and return to their habit. Let them kill themselves but I disagree with giving these people any of my sympathy.

      1. I completely understand. You’re simply reserving your abundance of sympathy for those more deserving!

        The truth is, addiction afflicts the weak – never the strong. From the outset addicts make a conscious choice to become addicts and destroy themselves, whether they shoot smack, booze it up, compulsively masturbate, spend, eat, beat their wives and kids, etc. The root cause is weak character and cowardice when it comes to facing life’s myriad problems. The means of self destruction is entirely irrelevant.

        Similarly, EVERY choice we make in life rests solely on our own shoulders. When we screw up, we should not only face our problems alone, as sovereign individuals – we should completely shun empathy and compassion, altogether. Why? THEY WEAKEN US ALL!

        Everything the government touches turns to feces, so the government shouldn’t be involved in ANY aspect of the drug economy, regardless of whether its intentions are to help or harm legal or illicit drug users.

      2. the vast majority of us don’t turn to heroin or cocaine or any of the other multitude of addictive, life destroying narcotics

        Unless you include alcohol.

      3. There are no drugs that will “provably shorten your life … and cost you every penny you have”. The poison is in the dose and it is possible to use any drug responsibly. You don’t hear about the responsible users because they, obviously, never make the news. Drug use is certainly a risky behavior, but it is not a guaranteed path to self-destruction, so you should reserve your blanket vilification for a different group, like those who run for public office.

        1. There is _one_ drug that is so addictive that few people use it without becoming addictive, that shortens your life, that users will continue to use it even though they are dying from its effects, and that some people I know will buy before they pay their heating bill – in a northern Michigan winter.

          It’s cigarettes.

          But alcohol is typical of how people who do not have a mental defect that encourages addiction will approach most drugs when there is no concern about being busted for them: they will use it now and then, not to excess except possibly at first when they don’t know how they react to it, and not when they expect being impaired to be a problem. OTOH, when Prohibition is a factor, they’ll use up all they have as fast as possible – you can still see this with alcohol at frat parties and teenage parties.

          1. few people use it without becoming _addicted_

  3. Bundling the two is the administrative equivalent of an American heiress marrying an English lord with a crumbling manor house.

    Someone watched Smithsonian Channel’s Million Dollar American Princesses.

    Look, all law enforcement officials are asking is for the basic tools they need to fight for more power.

    1. Cuz the purpose of law enforcement is more law enforcement.

      1. The purpose of bureaucracy is more bureaucracy. Law enforcement is just a specific example of it.

        1. When you think about it, all bureaucracy is ultimately law enforcement. Defy the bureaucracy, face the state agent’s weapon.

          1. Let’s simply all of that: All Government is Force.

  4. I’ve said many times that the War on Drugs is not a metaphorical war. War is a response to an existential threat and if the nation is at stake there’s no time for such niceties as Constitutional protections and everybody accepts that certain infringements on our liberties might be necessary. Unfortunately, war is the health of the state and a perpetual state of war is the result. And it’s downright unpatriotic to whine about your rights when there’s a war going on, don’t you know. So accept that things are only going to get worse and only a few frogs are going to notice that the water in the pot seems to be getting hotter – if you can accept the TSA groping you at the airport, you can accept the random roadside cavity searches. And you will.

  5. Progs are addicted to government.

    Today, on June 8, 1949, Orwell’s 1984 was published.

    Happy Birthday 1984 !!!

  6. Could fentanyl be a weapon of mass destruction? That was the prompt for a Department of Homeland Security memo that became public in April

    Could the Department of Homeland Security be a weapon of mass destruction?

  7. It bears repeating that this is the natural outcome of a coercive monopolistic government, which is no more than a bureaucracy of thugs who hate competition, and like all bureaucrats, seek to expand their prestige and ego by expanding their bureaucracies.

    Too many people blame government ills on a few bad actors. Even those who recognize the evil inherent in coercive monopolistic government make excuses when it comes to their pet projects. It’s almost universal to laugh private roads, even though private roads were the norm for a long time.

    Then you mention private police and courts, or even private prosecution for criminal activities, and even most so-called libertarians write you off as a loon.

    But but but, they say, and proceed to tell you how much they hate government, except for this, that and the other.

  8. Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.

    1. “Addiction is a symptom of PTSD. Look it up.”

      You made the claim. Back it up.

    2. It is a symptom of PTSD, but not everyone who is addicted has PTSD.

      Y is contained in X does not mean Y is the same population as X.

  9. “…exploring the question of whether the prescription painkiller should be treated like the functional equivalent of a suitcase nuke “when certain criteria are met.” ”

    Translated from Politico:
    “Exploring all sorts of absurd ways to increase our budget”

  10. [Blockquote]It is immodest to name a maxim after oneself. Ideally one’s friends—or more likely one’s enemies—should do it. But sometimes shorthand is useful, so I’d like to propose we call this Mangu-Ward’s Law: Policies designed to stop terrorists usually end up being used to try to stop people from getting high or getting laid.[/blockquote]

    I bet that if you looked, you could have found someone who articulated this very thing, probably 30 or 40 years ago even, to credit it to.

    1. Older. H. L. Mencken, “Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy.” Mangu-Wards law is just a corollary.

    2. In the early 60s “terrorism” meant government initiation of force. See Aldous Huxley’s lecture at Berkeley.

  11. One speck of carfentanil less than a third the size of a grain of salt is a fatal dose for humans. One bag could kill tens of thousands of people.

    It can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested. It is cheap, easy to get and used increasingly by dealers to add to other illicit drugs.

    The problem with all drugs is that the human body tolerated greater doses with extended use. Users need more to get high. Eventually, or with stronger forms, the dose becomes fatal.

    Doctors have no business prescribing lethal recreational drugs. That whole “do no harm” principle.

    1. “One speck of carfentanil less than a third the size of a grain of salt is a fatal dose for humans.”

      Your cite went missing.

      1. I think he’s right on the dosage statement. Reason interviewed an Anesthesiologist in 2917 that said pretty much the same thing.


        1. OK, I stand corrected re: the dose.
          Misek is full of shit most everywhere else:
          “It can be absorbed through the skin, inhaled or ingested.”
          From your link:
          “Q: Is fentanyl dangerous to touch, as several law enforcement agencies have reported?
          A: No, fentanyl is not dangerous to touch. Transdermal fentanyl patches deliver fentanyl across the skin, but they require special absorption enhancers because the skin is an excellent barrier to fentanyl (and all other opioids)”

          1. Yeah, it sounds like those claims were at least exaggerated. Though I do some cause for concern in a substance that is so difficult to calibrate a safe dosage.

    2. and used increasingly by dealers to add to other illicit drugs.

      This is a problem created by government – but you suggest that more government will solve it?

      1. This is one of my new favorite “everyone just knows it man” assertions. Pot has gotten stronger in counties and states that have legalized it. It isnt getting as strong as quickly in black market areas.

        1. Why would legal pot be stronger? In WA the opposite is usually true. The state very strictly regulates everything that is allowed for the cultivation of cannabis. Black market grow operations are not hamstrung this way, and can produce higher quality results.

        2. This is one of my new favorite “everyone just knows it man” assertions. Pot got stronger under prohibition – according the drug warriors – and now pot is getting even stronger in places without prohibition.

          Heads you win, tails I lose.

        3. Cannabis in the 80’s was 10 times stronger than the 70’s stuff.
          Cannabis in the 90’s was 10 times stronger than the 80’s stuff.
          Cannabis in the 00’s was 10 times stronger than the 90’s stuff.
          Cannabis in the 10’s is 10 times stronger than the 00’s stuff.

          So the shit around today is 10,000 times stronger than all that 70’s stuff (Accapulco Gold, Panama Red, Thai Stick etc).

          I think people back then just imagined they were high.

    3. Misek,
      You have a well-earned rep here as a liar; you and the truth seem to have but a passing acquaintance.
      Care to back up your claim with evidence, or are you just hoping to add to your rep as a fucking liar?

      1. He’s also an aggressive Holocaust denier. I think he has it in for the Joooooooosssss!

        1. Get him going on “Teh GAAYS!!!”, and you’re right about Teh JOOZE!!!”
          They forced the US into WWI and caused WWII.

          1. To be fair, Tony isn’t helping the case for the gays too much here. I would certainly be embarrassed by him if I were gay.

            1. Any gay can make an ass of him/her self without a general issue.
              I’m gonna assume Misek is not gay, just a straight ignoramus. That makes no comment regarding other straights posting here.

              1. Well, he is an embarrassment to the human race on a variety of levels.

        1. It’s all a plot by the Jooosss!

    4. Doctors, nurses, professionals who spent years learning the art and science, have been administering opioids including fentanyl for many years.

      Galen wrote around 180 ad
      “Opium is the strongest of the drugs which numb the senses and induce a deadening sleep; its effects are produced when it is soaked in boiling water, taken up on a flock of wool and used as a suppository; at the same time some can be spread over the forehead and in the nostrils. If it is mixed with a drug that mitigates its power, its effects are greatly reduced.”

    5. The problem with all drugs is that the human body tolerated greater doses with extended use. Users need more to get high. Eventually, or with stronger forms, the dose becomes fatal.

      That’s not how it works. Opioids are pretty safe for long term use if you get the dose right. They kill mostly by depressing respiration, not from acute toxicity. So larger doses aren’t necessarily more dangerous if the person taking it has a high tolerance. And people taking the drugs for chronic pain usually find a dosage that works for them long term.

    6. Doctors have no business prescribing lethal recreational drugs.

      You’re right. People should be able to get them without a prescription. Controlling what goes into one’s body is a big part of self-ownership.

      Also, anything you can put into your body can be lethal or safe. It all depends on the dose. Plenty of people use all kinds of recreational drugs responsibly. Only focusing on the addicts and abusers is being disingenuous.

  12. 70,000 people die annually from drug overdoses because hard drugs are difficult to obtain. Imagine how few will die if drugs are easier to get.

    1. Imagine how much smaller, cheaper, simpler, and fairer a government would be which didn’t make up crimes to keep busy.

      1. Let’s sing “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” as a duet.

    2. https://www.drugabuse.gov/related-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates

      Look at that chart. 70,000 is the number who died in 2017. Its normally 1/2 that. And the rise is because of the rise in Fentanyl. A rise which is only happening because of government interference in the production and distribution of recreational chemicals.

  13. up to I saw the bank draft of $7781, I did not believe that my best friend was like they say actually taking home money in there spare time from there new laptop.. there uncle started doing this 4 only 22 months and at present cleared the loans on there mini mansion and purchased Dodge. this is where I went,

    1. Well, after Fiat got done with them, $7781 is probably all Dodge is worth anymore.

      1. That SRT hellcat just can’t keep up.

  14. I suppose this will do for a weekend comment hijack.

    I finally got around to watching the latest Dr Who, this one being a woman (I suppose they honored the “12 regenerations and out” factoid by changing gender). She’s ok, and I say that as someone who started with Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker and thought the fifth doctor should have stuck with being a veterinarian.

    Their anti-gun political correctness really stood out more than usual in Ghost Monument, where they are surrounded by robot warriors. One of the companions picks up a dead warrior’s gun to shoot back, shouting “Call of Duty!!” and the doctor gives the usual anti-gun lecture on guns being useless, evil, beneath contempt, brains are better, etc, followed almost immediately by her exploding a battery pack whose EMP kills all the robot warriors and is so proud of herself for not using a dirty evil weapon.

    I don’t know what made me laugh more — the reflexive contempt for anything spelled “g-u-n” as if they never ever can do any good whatsoever, or the hypocrisy of preferring a non-gun weapon of mass destruction.

    Dr Who and most British TV shows all seem to have the same knee-jerk propaganda, but usually the weapon usage hypocrisy doesn’t show up so remarkably soon after the knee-jerk denunciation.

    1. The 12 regenerations thing was actually circumvented in Matt Smith last story (he was the 13 incarnation as there wa the War Doctor and 10 once regenerated and didn’t change). The Time Lords gave him a new regeneration cycle at the last minute. So Capaldi was actually his 13th regeneration. Which makes Whittaker his 14th regeneration.

  15. There is already a constitutional way of attacking the drug and human trafficking cartels without affording them the protections due to criminal suspects and defendants: declare war.

    1. Why would we need to declare war. Legalize it and the money drains out and the cartels lose their power. FFS, you saw this with alcohol prohibition. Drug cartels in the US gained huge power during prohibition and pretty much ceased to exist after it was repealed.

      Once again – a problem caused by government has people crying for more government to solve that problem.s

      1. Don’t you understand? Prohibition was about alcohol. The War on Drugs is about DRUGS!!!!!!!!

        (How drug warriors think, apparently)

  16. U.S. terrorists occupy Ecuador and Afghanistan, and with CBP are able to confiscate dope and confiscate bank accounts through asset forfeiture, and resell the dope by pressuring DEA agents’ daughters and brown people to sell it to folks who would rather have acid. If fentanyl is some sort of downer, it competes with ‘Murrican-Afghani smack and thereby costs the Feds black ops money, secret funding, pelf and boodle. Political Economy explains how coercive distortion of markets functions–so it is no longer taught. Therefore KMW must’ve learnt it illegally!

    1. Hank,
      It is possible that the comment is sarc, but you have a well-earned rep here:
      I tried to make sense of that pile of horseshit, and the best I can see is that you are a fucking ignoramus.

  17. The FBI definition of a terrorist organization is an organization that seeks to change cultural or political norms through lethal force. Sorry to say this, but people in many neighborhoods are afraid to call the police to complain about drug dealers, because they don’t want their friends and relatives killed by the drug gangs. This makes the drug gangs terrorist organizations. The boys in blue are committed to keeping any violence sub-lethal. We don’t kill people. Hooray for the Crypts!

    1. Then you’d have to concede that the DEA is a terrorist organization. Once again – a problem caused by government is being used to justify increased power for government. By ostensible libertarians.

      And its ‘Crips’, not ‘Crypts’.

  18. Every drug seller says, he is not terrorist. morons Cybergeneric

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