McCombie Op-ed: A WMD in Illinois?

As defined by the Department of Homeland Security, a weapon of mass destruction is a “device that is intended to harm a large number of people.” What comes to mind for many may be nuclear or biological weapons, but there’s something in Illinois more pervasive than that right now- FENTANYL.


Fentanyl has killed over 100,000 Americans last year —two milligrams of it is considered potentially lethal. Over 2,400 people in Illinois died from this agent in 2020. This is a larger number than the populations of many communities across the state. Fentanyl is pouring into the United States—over 3,800 kilograms of this substance have been seized by Customs and Border Patrol in just the first nine months of FY2022. In fact, in the last year, enough has been seized to kill every man, woman, and child in the U.S. “several times over.”


Fentanyl is destroying lives across the nation and across Illinois. Recently, a bipartisan group of Attorneys General urged President Biden to classify illegal fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. According to this letter, users often don’t know they are consuming the poisonous fentanyl; it is low cost, abundant, and lethal; and the amounts being seized given its lethality are inconsistent with expectations from drug trafficking activity.


With the news and urgency surrounding this issue, it could be reasonably assumed that Illinois lawmakers are tripping over themselves en route to the Capitol to hold hearings and pass legislation to combat this crisis in our state. However, that is not the case.


Instead, my House colleagues across the aisle approved a measure last year to make the possession of 3 grams of fentanyl a Class A misdemeanor. You read that right—so potentially 1,500 lethal doses of fentanyl would carry the same punishment as someone having an open six-pack of beer. This legislation, House Bill 3447, is sitting in the Senate right now to be considered.


I am co-sponsoring legislation introduced because I too am fed up with these efforts to lessen penalties on drug dealers who are profiting off of selling highly potential lethal toxins to our loved ones. We know this is a profitable business because of the wide reports of the nature of the products: fentanyl is being sold in other drugs, vitamins, and (despicably) products that look like candy that are called “rainbow fentanyl.” HB5808 strengthens penalties on products containing fentanyl and adds five years to sentences for fentanyl sold in products appearing like candy or prescription drugs.


Perhaps if we look in the eyes and speak to Illinois families who lost their loved ones in the horrific and painful death that is a fentanyl overdose, we can start attacking this crisis with the strength it demands, the strength a weapon of mass destruction would demand. At the very least, we in the General Assembly can stop loosening penalties around this poison and view it with rationality, before more lives are stolen by fentanyl in Illinois.