Fentanyl

The Feds Who Made America's Fentanyl Freakout Worse

Leaked police documents show how U.S. counterterrorism agencies spread myths and panic about fentanyl.

|

Police officers in Texas were told some terrifying news on June 26, 2018: Anti-government flyers poisoned with a deadly opioid had been placed on Harris County Sheriff's Office squad cars, and a sergeant who had touched one was en route to the hospital with overdose symptoms. The incident set off a flurry of media coverage, and it frightened police halfway across the country. The Maine Information Analysis Center forwarded Harris County's bulletin to local departments, while the Commonwealth Fusion Center wrote its own safety alert for Massachusetts officers.

But it wasn't true. Three days later, a laboratory analysis found that there was no fentanyl on the flyers. The Harris County Sheriff's Office blamed the panic on a problem with field test kits.

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid hundreds of times more powerful than morphine, is responsible for about half of overdose deaths in the United States. Among law enforcement, it has taken on mythical properties. First responders around the country have claimed to have nearly died from accidental exposure, based on the scientifically inaccurate idea that a deadly amount of fentanyl can pass through human skin or even poison the air around it.

That myth has spread through a surprising avenue: America's counterterrorism agencies.

Leaked police documents reviewed by Reason show that fusion centers—local liaison offices set up by the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of 9/11—have circulated fentanyl myths, causing police officers to panic and wasting first responders' time.

The documents were first released as part of BlueLeaks, a massive trove of law enforcement data leaked by the hacker collective Anonymous. Out of 121 fentanyl-related bulletins in the BlueLeaks trove reviewed by Reason, at least 36 claimed that fentanyl could be absorbed through the skin and at least 41 discussed the alleged danger of airborne fentanyl.

FBI officials even claimed that fentanyl is "very likely a viable option" for a chemical terrorist attack in a September 2018 bulletin, although they also admitted that there is "no known credible threat reporting" suggesting that anyone was actually planning such an attack.

The more the myths spread, the more officers in the field panicked, convinced that they had fallen victim to an accidental fentanyl overdose.

Fentanyl is a genuinely dangerous drug. A state trooper in Salem County, New Jersey, fainted and had to be revived with naloxone in September 2018 during a drug bust, according to a bulletin by the New Jersey Regional Operations and Intelligence Center. The officer had touched their face with fentanyl-contaminated hands—likely bringing the drug into contact with the mouth or eyes—and later tested positive for opioid exposure.

But overdosing "from transdermal and airborne exposure to Illicitly Manufactured Fentanyl (IMF) is a near scientific impossibility," according to the Harm Reduction Coalition.

In other words, fentanyl can't jump through air or the skin to suddenly kill you.

The drug can be administered through skin patches, but these patches require moisture and work over a long period of time. Similarly, someone would have to stand near an industrial-sized concentration of fentanyl for more than two and a half hours to feel the effects of the drug through airborne exposure.

The difficulty of overdosing by touching fentanyl didn't stop law enforcement—including the federal Drug Enforcement Administration—from warning the public that fentanyl could be "absorbed through the skin."

Meanwhile, many alleged "overdoses" by first responders seemed to be caused by panic—and the more they happened, the more panic they spread.

One state trooper was responding to an overdose in Sussex County, Delaware when he was suddenly struck by "an accelerated heart rate and light headedness," which turned into "a tingling sensation in his legs," according to an October 2018 bulletin by the Delaware Information & Analysis Center, the state's fusion center.

Rapid heartbeat and dizziness are symptoms of anxiety—not opioid overdose—but the Delaware trooper was rushed to the hospital and "treated" with naloxone.

That was enough to convince the Delaware Information & Analysis Center, which warned officers "to treat all unknown substances as if they could be deadly if inhaled or absorbed through the skin" in its bulletin about the incident.

The Young Physicians Section of the American Medical Association complained in a 2019 resolution that "paranoia" around accidental fentanyl exposure was causing first responders to "waste" naloxone on non-incidents while fearing for their lives around actual overdose victims.

Drug myths were not the only misinformation spread by fusion centers. Fusion centers have called "Don't Tread On Me" flags a sign of extremism, warned that ironic tweets about Florida could "incite" terrorist attacks, and spread bizarre warnings about "radical Islamist tattoos."

A U.S. Senate report in 2012 found that fusion centers had spent up to $1.2 billion to provide "oftentimes shoddy" and "rarely timely" information.

When it came to fentanyl, the War on Terror and the War on Drugs combined to create a toxic dose of misinformation.

The High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program operates much the same way as fusion centers—it is a program for sharing information between local law enforcement and the White House drug czar—with much less media scrutiny.

Much of the information about fentanyl in the BlueLeaks dump came from HIDTA's regional Investigative Support Center in Arizona.

Every bulletin about fentanyl from the Arizona office between May 2015 and January 2018 came with a warning that fentanyl "can be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin."

Bulletins from the Arizona office ended up on the servers of law enforcement agencies across California, including the fusion centers for northern California and Orange County, spreading the misinformation about skin contact to dozens of local departments.

The bulletins also correctly mentioned that fentanyl "can enter the body through the inadvertent touching of the mouth, nose, or other mucous membranes."

The Arizona office finally dropped its warnings about skin absorption in early 2018, as public awareness about fentanyl grew.

"Law enforcement bulletins regarding fentanyl have changed over time," a spokesperson for the Arizona office tells Reason. "Information received by law enforcement over the past five years regarding fentanyl exposure is continually updated."

And the federal government began to distribute better fentanyl safety recommendations beginning in November 2017. The Department of Justice released a video in August 2018 showing that "incidental skin contact" can be safely dealt with using soap and water.

But misinformation about fentanyl continues to frustrate medical professions, as the 2019 resolution by the American Medical Association emphasized.

"Stigma of opioid abuse and overdose has already made first-responders reluctant to intervene in a timely manner when someone is suspected of overdosing," the resolution warned. "Further delays in administration of naloxone in the setting of opioid overdose can have fatal consequences."

The Commonwealth Fusion Center and Delaware Information & Analysis Center have not responded to requests for comment.

Advertisement

NEXT: Will Anti-Racist Law Reviews Publish Anti-Anti-Racist Articles by Anti-Anti-Racist Authors?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. So this is how they trained to deal with the Communist Chinese Virus?

    1. I am making 70 to 60 dollar par hour at home on laptop ,, This is make happy But now i am Working 4 hour Dailly and make 400 dollar Easily ..YVd This is enough for me to happy my family..how ?? i am making this so u can do it Easily…

      ==========► Click here

      1. I make up to $90 an hour on-line from my home. My story is that I give up operating at walmart to paintings on-line and with a bit strive I with out problem supply in spherical $40h to $86h…TGb someone turned into top to me by way of manner of sharing this hyperlink with me, so now i’m hoping i ought to help a person else accessible through sharing this hyperlink…

        strive it, you HERE?….. http://Cashapp1.com

    2. I am making 70 to 60 dollar par hour at home on laptop ,, This is make happy But now i am Working 4 hour Dailly and make 400 dollar Easily ..GFb This is enough for me to happy my family..how ?? i am making this so u can do it Easily…
      ==========► Read more

    3. I am making 70 to 60 dollar par hour at home on laptop ,, This is make happy But now i am Working 4 hour Dailly and make 400 dollar Easily ..YVd This is enough for me to happy my family..how ?? i am making this so u can do it Easily…….COPY HERE====Money90

  2. Eliminate the FDA. End the drug war. Pardon all inmates serving time for drug related crimes.

    It’s that simple. (PS: Jo Jorgenson’s platform includes those)

    1. There’s a much more basic step: hold accountable everyone responsible.

      The only way to do this is allow private prosecution. When government defines the limits of government, corruption ensues. Let private people sue government actors for malfeasance. Of course, these private prosecutors also have to be held accountable when their charges don’t stick, so yu have to have loser pays too.

      There is no better way to stop malfeasance than letting every victim prosecute their malfeasors.

  3. Is the thread where we start talking about the fact that George Floyd had more than enough fentanyl in his system to kill him when he stopped breathing?

    https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/05/read-george-floyd-autopsy-report-with-cause-of-death-and-other-factors/

    1. Entirely coincidental that the cop was kneeling on his neck for 8 minutes.

      1. Didn’t say that.

      2. There’s this thing called reasonable doubt.

        Also, there’s a big difference between involuntary manslaughter and second degree murder.

        The fact that George Floyd had more than enough fentanyl in his system to kill him when he stopped breathing speaks to both of them.

        1. “George Floyd had more than enough fentanyl in his system to kill him” and yet, when the police first arrived, it hadn’t killed him.

          “There’s this thing called reasonable doubt.” True, there’s also this thing called reason. Then, there are lots of other things called by various names. No need to list them all here.

          1. “True, there’s also this thing called reason. Then, there are lots of other things called by various names. No need to list them all here.

            Sorry you can’t add it up for yourself.

            The difference between involuntary manslaughter and first degree murder is intent. You don’t need to establish intent beyond a reasonable doubt in the minds of all twelve jurors to get a conviction on involuntary manslaughter.

            Reasonable doubt means that if one out of twelve jurors decides they can’t tell the difference between what it looks like when someone suffocates because a cop is kneeling on him and what it looks like when someone suffocates with a cop kneeling on him because he has more than enough fentanyl in his system to make him stop breathing, then the defendent is not guilty–no matter whether you, I, the judge, or the rest of the world likes it.

            You see, facts and reason mean that the world is the way it is whether we like it or not, and whether we like it or not, reason dictates that because the cop in question is being charged with first degree murder rather than involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor will need to prove the intent to kill George Floyd beyond a reasonable doubt. Here’s another fact for you: when people die of a fentanyl overdose, it’s because it makes them stop breathing. All it takes is one juror to decide there is reasonable doubt, because of that, and the cop will be acquitted.

            Oh, here’s another fact that remains true by way of facts and logic regardless of whether we like it: If the cop is acquitted, there will probably be riots again–maybe even worse than before. After all, the Rodney King riots didn’t start when the tape of the beating went public. The Rodney King riots started when the cops charged with beating him were acquitted.

            1. Make $6,000-$8,000 A Month Online With No Prior Experience Or Skills Required.CMs Be Your Own Boss And for more info visit any tab this site Thanks a lot just open this link…..

              ========== CashApp

      3. In all probability the restraint hold didn’t kill him. However, continuing to kneel on his neck for 2+ minutes after being informed he had no pulse still makes Chauvin guilty of Murder 3 because he had no way of knowing that Floyd was in the middle of a fatal overdose, only suspicions. Unfortunately the prosecutor is a showboating asshole.

  4. And you fuckers go and post a picture of fentanyl right there where I can absorb that shit right through my eyeballs!

    1. eFantanyl™ (or iFentanyl™ if you are an Apple fanboi) is the worst.

  5. Wasn’t it a fusion center that kicked off the investigation of Trump for colluding with Putin to steal the election from its rightful heir?

  6. In other words, fentanyl can’t jump through air or the skin to suddenly kill you.

    True but some of the mythology may go back to this incident:

    In October 2002, after Chechen rebels stormed a Moscow theater and trapped more than 800 people for 57 hours, it seemed like it couldn’t get much worse. Then Russian troops released a mysterious gas into the theater. The gas was intended to incapacitate the rebels—which it did—-but it also ended up killing more than 120 of the hostages.

    That gas contained carfentanil, an opioid 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and 100 times more powerful than fentanyl.

    Anyway I’m finding an interesting dynamic when trying to ratchet down the drug war. When I post comments like “Let’s at least agree to reschedule pot from class I -> IV”. This is met with vitriolic fury, insults and imprecations – as would be expected from drug warriors. But more concerning is the number of people who say, “We must end the drug war. Fully legalize it or nothing.” (And then maunder about how ‘medical use’ is a scam or similar cavil.) The goal is to create a stalemate to prevent progress. (They don’t really want to end the drug war.)

  7. ●▬▬▬▬PART TIME JOBS▬▬▬▬▬●I am creating an honest wage from home 1900 Dollars/week , that is wonderful, below a year agone i used to be unemployed during a atrocious economy. I convey God on a daily basis i used to be endowed these directions and currently it’s my duty to pay it forward and share it with everybody, Here is I started…..
    ══════►►►USA JOBES
    .

  8. I maintain that fentanyl is the opioid of the masses

  9. Ooo, the fusion centers! Hadn’t seen anything here about them in a while, but what was shown here early in this century was hilarious. Remember that map with the captions of such widely disparate tidbits that one wondered what kind of picture it could add up to? Like, unusually heavy coats on beavers in Minnesota, outliers in the occurrence of the word “axlotl” in Massachusetts, shortages of matzoh in Nevada, record level of jaywalking tickets in California — aha! It must be…???

  10. I make up to $90 an hour on-line from my home. My story is that I give up operating at walmart to paintings on-line and with a bit strive I with out problem supply in spherical $40h to $86h… someone turned into top to me by way of manner of sharing this hyperlink with me, so now i’m hoping i ought to help a person else accessible through sharing this hyperlink… strive it, you HERE? Read More

  11. Cops can’t even take drugs without passive voice.

  12. Apparently no one who writes these “bulletins” has ever touched an illegal drug, let alone a narcotic.

    1. If they did, they would have died.

  13. The reason deny is so widespread is because of prohibition of opioids. Drug cartels/dealers want more money and rent is a cheap way to make drugs stronger. This is anecdotal but I’ve noticed the number of counterfeit pills(especially benzodiazapines) have gone way up. Many of those fake pills are actually fent and maybe a little bit of obscure benzo. They are incredibly dangerous since you can’t ever really know what’s I’m them. If people could order opioids and benzos through the mail or a pharmacy or something it wouldn’t eliminate all the danger, but it’d certainly would be much safer than what we do now. There’s always gonna be a portion of society that does drugs whether they’re legal or not. Bottom line is it’s no one’s business what people put in their bodies.

  14. Goddamn auto correct: The reason FENTANYL is so widespread… It should be fentanyl instead of rent

  15. The Russians manage to aerosolize fentanyl and used-it to subdue the Chechen terrorists in the Moscow theater incident.
    We in anesthesia would like to know how they did that.
    The Russians care nothing for human life and so let lots of the hostages die when they could easily have been saved.

Please to post comments