How do you fight something unseen?
Anyone who watched Halloween horror movies over the last month inevitably came across some version of a movie where the protagonist battles an invisible foe. From Hollow Man to the Invisible Man, about every 5-10 years another one gets made.
The concept clearly interests a sizable audience and yet sometimes it still has trouble finding widespread appeal. Late last week, the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office made an announcement that will hopefully hit the mark like a successful franchise rather than struggle to find traction.
The threat is fentanyl, not as a pill form or powder laced in other drugs used by an addict, but truly targeted and weaponized used by a terrorist for the purposes of a mass destruction event.
This latter intent is the intangible part of the threat. There are tangible elements to fentanyl. We can see pictures of those arrested for possession or read the unfortunate stories of overdoses from NARCAN revivals to fatalities.
But these easily understood tangible examples is not what CCSO is leading the discussion about. Sheriff Mike Prendergast published a statement standing with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody who is one of over 15 other bipartisan states attorneys general to petition President Joe Biden to classify fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction.
That term is not used lightly. Until you see the amount of fentanyl needed to kill someone, it’s hard to truly understand the sheer magnitude of danger the drug poses. A lethal dose amounts to roughly what would come out of a single shake of a table salt dispenser.
Now compare that to the amount that has already arrived on our doorstep. Since 2020, CCSO has seized 3.33 pounds of fentanyl - enough to kill 756,000 people. This is roughly the size of Seattle, the 18th largest city in America.
Think about that for a second. The number of lethal doses to kill everyone in a top 20 US metropolitan area has already been seized here in Citrus County in less than 2 years. Trying to put the amount of fentanyl that must be in our nation with this as our reference point is like trying to imagine the expanse of the universe by looking at a tiny cluster of stars.
With this new perspective, it becomes obvious how drastically understated this threat truly is. You might still be thinking that it is a problem relegated to the addict class, but there already is historical precedent for it being weaponized.
Nearly two decades ago, the Russian army used it to attempt to end a hostage crisis and regrettably killed 120 hostages in the process - highlighting just how potent doses can be when weaponized.
Attorney General Moody recently cited a report from the US Customs and Border Patrol saying that enough fentanyl has entered the country to provide a lethal dose to every American 11 times over.
Some might still be tempted to dismiss this statement as fear mongering. There’s a difference between fabricating fear and recognizing a real threat. These numbers are convincing evidence that we are at the point of the latter. Once we make that distinction, it’s clear that the problem with conveying the severity of this issue isn’t the reality of the threat, but rather with our ability to perceive it even in the face of its still abstract nature.
So how do you combat this problem? How do you fight what you cannot see? Sheriff Prendergast has the perfect two-fold response for that. First, give it a face. Tell a story and make it personal. A couple of weeks ago, CCSO arrested a Beverly Hills 30-year-old charged with first degree felony murder for distributing fentanyl that led to the fatal overdose of a man in his 50s. It was the second of these cases to be charged this year with the first coming in May.
The second strategy is to get people talking about it. His recent statement standing with Ashley Moody was just the starting point. It accompanied a call to action for people to keep the conversation going. Just as with mental illness, when the abstract threats we face become conversational mainstream, they become easier to understand and accepted by the masses as a problem.
The county has seen 53 fentanyl deaths total year-to-date and has already had a 25% increase in fentanyl-related crimes over last year’s numbers with still two months left in the year. The amount of fentanyl in our country is unfathomable and needs to be addressed. Sheriff Prendergast’s recent stance was strongly worded, but absolutely necessary.