Army Sees Record Number Of Deaths From Fentanyl Overdoses

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The Army suffered a record number of deaths from fentanyl overdoses in 2021, the latest year for which data is available, according to public records obtained by The Washington Post.

Between 2015 and 2022, the Army lost 127 soldiers to fentanyl — more than double the number of soldiers killed in combat in Afghanistan during the same time period — the Post reported, citing casualty figures obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. At least 27 soldiers died in 2021 from fentanyl overdoses, the worst year on record, although data on drug overdoses and related deaths in the U.S. military is unclear and experts said the Pentagon does not carefully track overdoses, according to the Post.

However, Pentagon officials provided a much smaller figure to Congress in February when asked about statistics on fentanyl overdoses, which a Pentagon spokesperson later attributed to an accounting error, according to the Post. (RELATED: Veterans Take Their Own Lives Far More Often Than Official Records Show, Study Finds)

Of the 332 troops from all military branches who died of drug overdoses between 2017 and 2021, more than half were attributed to fentanyl, the Pentagon told lawmakers in a letter response, and there were about 15,000 overdoses in total.

“Taking care of people, including the prevention of misuse of prescription or illicit drugs, is a priority for the Army. One drug overdose is one too many,” Army spokeswoman Heather Hagan told the Post.

In May, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in both the House and Senate introduced legislation that would compel the Pentagon to provide a public accounting of overdoses in the military and increase treatment and prevention options.

Members of Congress pointed to apparently skyrocketing overdose deaths at Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg) and other Army installations, according to the Post.

“Hundreds of service members have lost their lives to overdose and thousands more nearly did,” Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said in a press release.

“This is not only a tragedy for those individuals and their families, it is an institutional failure and a threat to our national defense,” Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts said. “We need more data, more accountability, and a plan for stopping so many of these preventable deaths from happening in the future.”

The emergence of fentanyl, a drug that is deadly even in extremely small doses and is often disguised in prescription medication or other illicit drugs, further obscures the extent of drug problems in the U.S. Army, according to the Post.

Families of victims said the soldiers did not display any propensity for drug use before joining the Army, according to the Post.

DOD says the rate of overdoses in the military is lower than in the general population, according to the Post. However, in some hotspots, like Fort Liberty in North Carolina, rates far exceed those in their states, the Post reported. Between 2015 and 2022, at least 29 soldiers stationed at Fort Liberty died from fentanyl overdoses, the new data showed.

The Army and DOD did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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