Unexpected "gas" casualties in Moscow: A medical toxicology perspective

Paul M. Wax, Charles E. Becker, Steven C. Curry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

113 Scopus citations


In October 2002, the Russian military used a mysterious "gas" to incapacitate Chechen rebels at a Moscow theater. Despite increased interest in the potential use of lethal chemical weapons in recent years, the medical community has paid little attention to the development of incapacitating, calmative, and "less than lethal" technologies. In this analysis, we review the events surrounding the use of a calmative "gas" during the Russian military action and discuss what is currently known about fentanyl derivatives, their aerosolization, and the rationale for their use as incapacitating agents. Collectively, the available evidence strongly suggests that a combination of a potent aerosolized fentanyl derivative, such as carfentanil, and an inhalational anesthetic, such as halothane, was used. The paper also assesses potential errors leading to the loss of a substantial number of hostages. Several lessons can be learned from this surprising and novel use of an incapacitating gas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)700-705
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of emergency medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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