Van Beek: A chemical weapon killing thousands

Imagine a chemical weapon so potent that a mere 2 milligrams can kill someone almost instantly. According to U.S. Attorney Jason Dunn, a barely detectable amount of only 4 grams can kill up to 13,000 people. Yet, it is so small that it can easily be transported in a pocket.

Imagine that if a full airplane carries 350 people, this chemical weapon could take down all the passengers of 37 airplanes. It would be one of the worst disasters in our history. Now imagine, if it was only a misdemeanor to do so.

This chemical is imported and distributed through an extensive network across every major city and small town in America. It kills indiscriminately, and while its victims are mostly adults, children have become a prime target.

Unlike other chemical weapons, this one attaches to the opioid receptors of the brain, which are located next to the section that regulates breathing and critical oxygen intake. These receptors create a temporary sense of euphoria, which disguises its lethal potential of permanently damaging the brain through hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and often results in death.

Those who distribute this chemical are well aware of its consequences and are directly responsible for their victims’ deaths, yet they consider the risk worth it because it is hugely profitable, and those lost are easily replaced by others. Plus, if caught, the penalty is only a misdemeanor, with a maximum jail sentence of less than a year and no more than a $1,000 fine. Thirteen thousand lives divided by $1,000 makes each life worth only about the cost of a cup of coffee and a bagel. And, as a misdemeanor, the perpetrator is back on the street within hours, if arrested at all.

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The chemical weapon destroying lives across our nation and within our local neighborhoods is fentanyl.

Ingredients for this lethal compound are being brought here from abroad, primarily China and Mexico, and it is being manufactured in area kitchens, basements and garages, making detection extremely difficult.

Fentanyl is a drug that is 100 times more potent than heroin, and a dose the size of a grain of sand can kill. When it’s prescribed by a doctor, it’s measured by the millionth of a gram.

An example of what a microgram looks like was best described by Dr. Gabor Maté, a retired physician who worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and now teaches and lectures on addiction. “A typical pill you might take for a headache like Ibuprofen, is 400 milligrams,” Gabor Maté said. “Try cutting that pill in 400 pieces. Each is a milligram. To get a microgram, that same pill would have to be cut into 400,000 pieces.”

While this situation is running rampant in the United States, we are not alone. Fentanyl’s profitability is massive and its size makes crossing borders easy. According to Canadian Crown Counsel, Oren Bick, “It can be bought for $7,000 a kilogram in China and diluted 100 times, to make several million doses of street heroin or fake OxyContin.”

Users think they are getting pure heroin, but it is increasingly laced with cheaper fentanyl, and since the measurements are not precise when manufactured in a garage, and such a tiny amount can kill, we are seeing a rise in accidental overdoses and deaths. Darn, there goes another cup of coffee and bagel.

The designation of misdemeanor is from a 2019 Colorado law, HB 19-1263.

In describing the instantaneous death by Fentanyl, according to, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interviewed more than 60 people from southeastern Massachusetts. A respondent’s description was … when a person overdoses on heroin, he or she may take the drug and then proceed to carry on a conversation for a few moments, then suddenly, that person stops talking and you look over and realize that they’re overdosing. But with fentanyl, the effect is immediate: I would say you notice it as soon as they are done (injecting the fentanyl). They don’t even have time to pull the needle out (of their body) and they’re on the ground. Another cup of coffee and bagel.

If you believe that lives are worth more than a breakfast snack, then contact your state representative, state senator, and the governor’s office.

Keeping our communities safe requires that well-intentioned but misguided legislation, does not endanger lives.

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