Fentanyl Letters Mailed, A Troubling Trend

Suspicious letters sent to voting centers and government buildings in six states this month raised alarms, as some contained traces of fentanyl. Drawing parallels with the 2001 anthrax attacks that claimed five lives, the mailings have driven election officials, already grappling with ongoing harassment and threats, to seek assistance from local police, fire, and health departments for naloxone (Narcan) supply.

Drugs like fentanyl are routinely sent through mail and in FY 2023, the US Postal Inspection Services seized over 16,000 lbs of illegal drugs in US mail. In these instances, drugs are typically well packaged so that they can be consumed or sold when they reach their recipient. The recent instances of fentanyl in the mail are troubling as the sending of fentanyl as a loose powder in an envelope is intended to be aerosolized and harm individuals upon opening. For government officials and other high-profile offices, it’s important to do a visual inspection of mail before proceeding to open it.

Suspicious mail may have the following visual characteristics:

  • No return address
  • Excessive tape
  • Excessive postage
  • Restrictive marking (e.g. Do Not X-ray)
  • Evidence of containing a powder (bulging, discoloration)
suspect mail visual
Where to swab on envelope

If the mail has any of the above characteristics, please protect yourself and others with proper PPE and/or use MX908 as a screening device before attempting to open suspicious envelopes or packages.

Identifying Dangerous Fentanyl Powders with MX908 Trace Detection

The illustration above details how utilizing MX908 in Drug Hunter Mission Mode allows the user to minimize exposure by swabbing the outside of suspected laced envelopes. The use of trace sampling can avoid a dangerous exposure or overdose since the suspected dangerous mail does not need to be opened, preventing the powder from being aerosolized.

Trusted by emergency responders, law enforcement officials and border security agents, the MX908 is an essential tool to detect illicit materials in multiple forms, including solids, liquids, vapors and aerosols. The benefits of the MX908 handheld device include its ability to identify trace amounts of substances, and its ease of use and portability, enabling chemical identification at the point of need.

“The MX908 allows us to quickly identify suspected narcotics that are concealed in mail in either a liquid or powder form. Previously, we relied on manual inspection and did not have the testing capability to identify this dangerous contraband, which greatly affects the safety and security of prisons. With the MX908, we are able to proactively identify and combat the introduction of contraband through mail and other sources while ensuring the safety of the those who are incarcerated, our staff and the public.”

Jeff Dansky, Deputy Director of Investigations for the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) for the Minnesota Department of Corrections (Minnesota DOC)

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Learn best practices on utilizing MX908 to screen suspected drugs concealed in mail.