TAMPA, Fla. — Illicit fentanyl has become one of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths.
It’s estimated more than 150 people die every day from an overdose related to fentanyl or other synthetic opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Even in small doses, the agency warns, fentanyl can be deadly.
This week Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody announced a fentanyl trafficking operation bust where investigators seized 48 pounds of fentanyl, enough to kill half the state's population, she claimed.
Some people suggested Moody was exaggerating.
Are 48 pounds of fentanyl enough to kill half the population of Florida?
Yes, 48 pounds of fentanyl are enough to kill half the population of Florida — or more than 11 million people.
WHAT WE FOUND
Illicit fentanyl can be up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the CDC.
Just two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose, according to the DEA.
Paul Wax, executive director of the American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) similarly told VERIFY that it only takes a tiny amount to be deadly.
“That's why we're in the midst of this terrible epidemic,” Wax said. “Because it is so potent – a tiny, tiny amount is lethal.”
In medical settings, Wax explained, fentanyl is dosed in even tinier amounts – typically 50 to 100 micrograms. A lethal dose of two milligrams would be equal to 2,000 micrograms.
To put it into perspective, two milligrams of fentanyl look like 10 grains of table salt.
This widely circulated photo from the DEA illustrates what two milligrams of fentanyl look like next to a penny.
So, could 48 pounds of fentanyl really be enough to kill half the population of Florida?
One kilogram of fentanyl – roughly two pounds – has the potential to kill 500,000 people, according to the DEA. Forty-eight pounds is roughly 24 kilograms.
Florida has a population of roughly 22 million people, according to the latest census data.
“If you do the math,” Wax told VERIFY, “it makes sense” that 48 pounds of fentanyl could kill 11 million people – or half the state’s population.
In the past, law enforcement agencies have overstated the risk of exposure to the drug, falsely claiming you can overdose merely by touching it or accidentally inhaling it.
In response, the American College of Medical Toxicology (ACMT) and American Academy of Clinical Toxicology (AACT) released a joint statement in 2017 saying it was not possible to overdose from fentanyl by simply being in its presence, adding the risk of “clinically significant exposure” of fentanyl to first responders is “extremely low.”
“Even though it is very, very potent, in normal circumstances if you have intact skin then you should not absorb much of any of the fentanyl,” Wax told VERIFY. “That's why there's kind of overkill sometimes.”