by Cat Ellis
“What if terrorists used fentanyl to poison our food supply?”
This was the frightening thought that raced through my mind while scrolling through Facebook. I came across an article with an image of a lethal dose of the opioid drug next to a penny. It was shocking how such a tiny amount of this white powder could kill a single adult.
I couldn’t help but wonder how easily this tiny amount of white powder could be mistaken for flour or powdered sugar. What would happen if a terrorist got a job at a flour or a sugar company and mixed this drug into the product? How many people would die before authorities could figure out what happened?
I know, what a scary thought, right?
I have a need to identify threats and actionable steps to protect myself and my family. I engaged my Google-fu, and here is what my research found. It’s not good, but there are steps you can take to secure a safe food supply for you and your loved ones.
What is Fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a highly-potent, synthetic opioid drug. It has legitimate uses for extreme pain management, such as with some cancer patients. Fentanyl, both legally and illegally made, is currently the leading cause of opioid overdoses. From the article that showed the photo above that started me down this rabbit hole:
The most common of these synthetic drugs is fentanyl, which is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is often added to heroin to sell it as “high potency”. Often, people think they are buying heroin without realizing they are also taking fentanyl.
Fentanyl has also been named the leading cause of opioid overdose deaths.
“Fentanyl, the third wave of this crisis, has an unmatched potency. Across the country, it has been showing up in other drugs – or worse, billed as another drug entirely,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Health Subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX). “It’s easy and cheap to illicitly manufacture, making it easy for bad actors to change the formula – or analogues – to keep it just shy of getting caught. (source)
How does Fentanyl get into the US?
Fentanyl, like most of our pharmaceuticals, is manufactured in China. There are a variety of ways this legal fentanyl can be administered.
Fentanyl is typically administered intravenously (IV), intramuscularly (IM), transdermally (TD) as skin patches (Durogesic DTrans; Fencino; Fentalis), intranasally (IN) in the form of a volatile nasal spray (Instanyl or PecFent, and intrathecally (IT). It is also available as a buccal soluble thin film (Breakyl), which can dissolve in the mouth, similarly to the sublingual tablets (Abstral or Recivit). However, in contrast to other opiates, it is less common to find forms of the synthetic drug as oral tablets or powders. (source)
Some of the legally manufactured fentanyl falls into the hands of drug dealers here in the US. The precursor chemicals needed to manufacture illegal analogs of fentanyl are also largely sourced from China.
Mexican drug cartels have found fentanyl analogs cheap and easy to manufacture. They simply import the needed chemicals from China, synthesize it, and then sell their DIY fentanyl through the same channels that they sell other drugs. Fentanyl is often mixed with heroin or cocaine without the user knowing.
This is not just a problem in the United States. Canada is also seeing a rise in “street fentanyl” abuse.
Most street fentanyl in Canada is produced illegally as a powder. Street fentanyl may be swallowed, smoked, snorted or injected. Fentanyl is released from prescription patches by smoking or chewing.
Fentanyl is sold as a powder or a pill, or is cut into (mixed with) drugs such as heroin or cocaine. This type of fentanyl is usually sold as another substance, so people swallow, snort or inject it without realizing. Many overdoses have occurred because people did not know that what they were taking was contaminated with fentanyl.
That’s the low down on fentanyl, what it is, where it comes from, and what it looks like. The second part of this potential SHTF scenario is a terrorist plot to contaminate the food supply.
Terror by groceries?
When most people think of a terror attack, they think of mass violence with bombs, planes, trucks, and guns. It’s a shock and awe attack that leaves people fearful and confused.
We also think of biological attacks. Back in 2014, one of the biggest worries of many preppers was what if someone purposely became infected with the Ebola virus, and traveled to the US before symptoms surfaced to spread the disease.
We don’t tend to think of terrorism through contamination, and especially not through our groceries. When we consider how centralized our food production and packaging are, a large amount of food could be contaminated from just one or two locations. The illnesses and inevitable deaths would take place far away from the contamination site. The culprits would just walk away, free to strike somewhere else. No suicide vests necessary.
Let’s take this one step further. Let’s consider how “cheap and easy” it is to synthesize fentanyl powder. This powder could be manufactured in large amounts. Terrorists could then use this powder to contaminate products at any of the large flour mills and food manufacturers.
Is grocery store poisoning a real threat?
Terrorists have been threatening terror by food for a long time. Agroterrorism is the introduction of a biological agent into the food supply, for example, foot and mouth disease to livestock. This probably wouldn’t make anyone too sick, but it would disrupt the beef industry, as well as trust in the food supply in general. It would wreak havoc on the economy.
In 1984, a woman deployed a salmonella-tainted liquid onto a salad bar. It was exceptionally lucky that no one did, in fact, die.
Her act began the first — and worst — case of bioterrorism in US history. Investigators ultimately determined that the woman and her associates had contaminated 10 salad bars in the town of The Dalles with a strain of salmonella bacteria, giving 751 patrons nausea, diarrhea, bloody stools, fever and other symptoms of severe food poisoning. (Fortunately, no one died.) (source)
Contamination with a drug is a little different, as it isn’t a disease being spread. It would still result, however, in both hospitalizations and deaths. All the other problems of trust in the food supply and economic damage would follow as well.
Here are a few more headlines to make you think:
- 9 with IS links may have been planning mass murder at Kumbh Mela The nine persons arrested were planning to poison food and water at public gatherings.
- ISIS eyes poisoning Australian food supplies
- ISIS fanatics ‘demand Kate Middleton’s murder by poisoning food she buys from supermarkets
And this lovely article from September 2017, ISIS Supporters Call for Poisoning of Food in Grocery Stores across US and Europe
“In the third part of an English-language series promoting lone-wolf jihad in Western countries, potential attackers are advised to inject food for sale in markets with cyanide poison,” U.S.-based jihadi monitoring group SITE Intelligence reported. (source)
The article continues:
The potential use of poison is one that has been publicized by the group’s supporters for several years, but never used. Jihadists published a guide that directed “six ways to kill the Jews” in October 2015, the methods given were to “stab him, burn him, poison him.” They have also distributed a guide on how to poison food eaten by “crusaders.” Pro-ISIS groups have also published handbooks on how to make homemade poison. (source)
We know that terrorists are interested in poisoning our food supply. We should probably include our water supply too. We know that fentanyl is cheap and easy to synthesize. We also know that it only takes a tiny amount of fentanyl powder to kill an adult.
What could possibly go wrong?
What foods would be most at risk of a fentanyl terror attack?
“Street fentanyl” is a plain, white powder. Any food that is similar would be at risk. That includes (but is not limited to):
- Flour (All types- white wheat, rice, coconut, etc)
- Sugar, especially powdered sugar
- Baking soda
- Baking powder
- Cream of tartar
- Artificial sweeteners (Splenda, Equal, etc)
- Natural and alternative sweeteners (Stevia, Swerve, etc)
- Protein powders
- Potato starch
- Corn starch
- Clear Jel
- Collagen powders
There are a lot of common pantry items on the above list. While I cannot DIY myself up some Clear Jel or protein powders, there are some actions that can be taken.
How can you help protect your family from this kind of attack?
Please know upfront, many of these require some initial investment of money, and ongoing investments of time and labor. But, as preppers, you’re probably used to that and enjoy the self-reliant challenge.
- Store wheat berries and grind your own flour. You’ll have better flour and better baked goods anyway. Flour can go rancid. Grinding it yourself ensures your flour isn’t old. Wheat berries last much longer in storage than flour. Plus, it’s more cost-effective in the long run. (Here are some ideas for cooking with wheat berries.)
- Find a sweetener you can produce at home. Ever thought about keeping bees or tapping trees? Honey has so many uses both in the kitchen and medicinally. It’s excellent for wounds and burn care. Maple, birch, alder, walnut, and sycamore can all be tapped with various yields for syrup. Making beet sugar from your own beets is another option. If you are diabetic, use these sparingly.
- Collect your own wild yeast. Yeast can be tricky. There are many types, and not all will produce satisfactory results in your baking or brewing. However, our ancestors figured it out, and so can we. Yeast is found in the air, as well as on fruit and other plant parts. Making your own sourdough starter is one way we use natural yeasts.
- Shift to traditional cooking methods. Protein powders, modified corn starch (like Clear Jel), and powdered collagen are convenient. However, none of them are necessities. There are so many other protein sources than powder. A near-flavorless collagen can be extracted from chicken feet for all your sweet and savory needs. You can skip the Clear Jell from your canning recipe, and add a different thickener when preparing to serve.
- Make your own potato starch. While it’s a little time consuming, it isn’t too hard to make your own potato starch. You’ll end up with both potato starch and potato flour. Potatoes aren’t too difficult to grow, and you’ll only need common kitchen items, including some cheesecloth or muslin, a pot, and a food processor or blender.
- Stock up now and wait. Some items, like baking soda, baking powder, etc, will keep. I don’t have any way to DIY baking soda, but you can make baking powder by mixing baking soda with cream of tartar. If you want to use these, buy them, and don’t use them right away. After 4 to 5 months, you can be reasonably confident that if any batches were contaminated, it will have been discovered by then.
- Substitute lemon juice for cream of tartar. Cream of tartar is a byproduct of the winemaking process. If you make your own wine, you can collect it from the inside of your barrels. You can also substitute lemon juice or vinegar for cream of tartar in many recipes. Dwarf lemon trees are perfect to grow citrus in any size home.
This kind of attack would be frighteningly simple to carry out.
All it would take is one lone wolf to easily acquire a moderate amount of fentanyl powder, get a job at one of the large flour mills in the US, and lace the product with this deadly substance. Poisoned flour would be on grocery shelves all over the country. It would take a little time for authorities to figure out what has happened. In the meantime, people would get very sick, and some would die from a drug overdose they never knew they took.
Safety is never guaranteed. One thing I do know is that the more you take control of the food you put into your body, the better off you are. You will be trading your time and labor for this, but you and your family are worth the effort.
Cat Ellis is an herbalist, prepper, and homesteader from New England. She keeps bees, loves gardening and canning, and practice time at the range. She teaches herbal skills on her website, Herbal Prepper, and also blogs at Homesteading Mom and Keto Cat. Cat is a member of the American Herbalists Guild, and the author of two books, Prepper’s Natural Medicine and Prepping for a Pandemic.