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AP FACT CHECK: Trump overstates the lethality of fentanyl

February 25, 2019
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President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One, Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Hanoi, Vietnam. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump made the astonishing claim Monday that a small spoonful of fentanyl can kill everyone in a U.S. state. That’s not close to true.

A teaspoon of illegally made fentanyl could conceivably kill 3,000 people, by one measure. The state with the smallest population, Wyoming, has about 578,000 people. It would take close to 200 teaspoons to kill a population of that size.

TRUMP: “A little tiny spoonful can wipe out a state. It’s hard to believe. It can wipe out an entire state, a spoonful of this stuff.” — remarks at a meeting with governors.

THE FACTS: It can’t.

To be sure, fentanyl can be extraordinarily lethal as well as addictive.

The Drug Enforcement Administration cited evidence in a case last year that 1 gram of fentanyl can kill 300 to 500 people. The case involved a Belleville, Illinois, man convicted in Texas of trafficking nearly 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of the drug, which the agency says is enough to kill up to 5.8 million people.

A teaspoon generally holds 4 to 6 grams, depending on the dry substance, equating to a theoretical death toll from fentanyl of 1,200 to 3,000, far from Trump’s claim that an amount that small can wipe out “an entire state.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says illicitly manufactured fentanyl is the main driver of recent increases in synthetic opioid deaths.

Trump made his assertion while discussing efforts to get China to crack down on illicit fentanyl sold to the U.S. The drug killed tens of thousands of users in the U.S. last year.

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AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

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