Nebraska State Trooper Sam Mortensen was honored by President Donald Trump in October for his role in one of the largest seizures of fentanyl in United States history, according to the Lincoln Journal Star.
Mortensen discovered over a hundred pounds of the deadly drug in the back of a mail truck in April.
“Trooper Mortensen seized 118 pounds of fentanyl, enough lethal doses to kill 26 million people,” the president said at the ceremony. “Is that even believable? Can you even imagine? Trooper Mortensen, that was a job well done.”
Mortensen found the drugs after he noticed a truck marked “U.S. Mail” driving erratically. After stopping the vehicle, Mortensen found 42 brick-shaped packages of fentanyl behind a plastic panel with mismatched bolts.
The two drivers were arrested, and the fentanyl was confiscated.
Fentanyl is such a lethal drug that even trace amounts — the equivalent of few grains of salt — could be lethal, according to Bloomberg.
The drug is often imported from China, but as trade with that country endures increased scrutiny, suppliers looking to meet demand are expected to begin making more in the United States.
“There’s never been a drug like fentanyl before,” said Josh Bloom, senior director of chemical and pharmaceutical research at the American Council on Science and Health. “For street drugs, this absolutely destroys anything else in terms of lethality and danger.”
Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin but is 50 times more potent. Its strongest form, called carfentanil, is used as an elephant tranquilizer, according to Bloomberg.
Michael Morell, the former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama, called the drug a “weapon of mass destruction,” according to Bloomberg.
Particular caution must be used in dealing with the drug, as even contact with the skin can be fatal. Law enforcement officers and first responders have become seriously ill after coming in contact with the drug on their skin or clothing, Bloomberg reported.
Furthermore, the medication that’s commonly used in drug overdoes, known as Narcan, is only effective to counter fentanyl if used multiple times.
According to the government’s drug abuse database, national overdose deaths in the United States connected to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl and excluding pain relievers, has exploded over the past five years.
In 2013, the deaths credited to Fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids were less than 5,000. In 2017, it’s estimated that the same drugs were responsible for over 29,000 deaths.
Roger Crystal, chief executive officer of Opiant Pharmaceuticals Inc., a company with a potential contract to produce a single-dose antidote, said he thinks fentanyl production in the United States will increase in the near future.
“It doesn’t take much more than a half-competent chemist to be able to manufacture it,” Crystal said, according to Bloomberg. “And it’s cheaper to manufacture than heroin.”
“Because we’re in a fentanyl crisis, there’s more fentanyl around, and for that reason, the ability to get hold of it and getting it into the wrong hands isn’t that hard.”