Weapons in waiting

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Science  05 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6371, pp. 24
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6371.24

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On the night of 26 October 2002, Russian special forces raided the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow, where terrorists were holding several hundred hostages. They had pumped a narcotic aerosol into the hall, aiming to incapacitate the terrorists. But the vapor—composed of two fentanyl derivatives—was so potent that many hostages lapsed into a coma, and 124 of them died. The botched raid marked the debut of a new chemical weapon, one of many that worry experts. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has a list of about 100 chemicals that pose a serious risk of being weaponized, and these have been categorized according to their toxidrome, or the broad set of symptoms they trigger. The potential threats are spurring a search for new countermeasures.