That’s how much of the powerful opioid painkiller Nebraska State Trooper Sam Mortensen found in April when he stopped a truck marked “U.S. Mail” swerving onto the shoulder along Interstate 80.
Rolling up the trailer door revealed an empty hold. But just below a refrigeration unit, behind a plastic panel secured with mismatched bolts, Mortensen found 42 brick-shaped packages, weighing 54 kilograms, full of fentanyl. The drug is so potent that even a small amount — the equivalent of a few grains of salt — can be lethal.
Fentanyl has emerged as the most dangerous of a group of drugs blamed for creating a U.S. public health crisis. American deaths linked to fentanyl grew more than 50 percent to 29,406 last year, from 19,413 in 2016, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Relatively easy to manufacture, the drug is turning up more on the streets as dealers strive to meet still-enormous demand for opioids in the U.S.
The fatal potential of even glancing contact with fentanyl is a major reason why national security experts are becoming alarmed at the prospect of it being used to sow terror.
The drug is “a significant threat to national security,” Michael Morell, the former acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency under President Barack Obama, wrote last year. “It is a weapon of mass destruction.”