DOD: “Every drug overdose is a preventable loss of life and we must work to do better”

Full text: Letter from Department of Defense, including overdose data (PDF)

Washington (February 15, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) and a member of the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking from 2020 to 2022, today released new data from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) on fatal overdoses at military installations, as well as plans the Department has outlined to improve drug overdose prevention efforts on military bases.

“Our military is not immune to the opioid epidemic. We have lost countless service members to overdose, and if we fail to take action to protect those in uniform, we will lose countless more,” said Senator Markey. “The Department of Defense’s latest report underscores the urgency of this moment and our need to ensure access to quality care and treatment without stigma or shame. I am thankful the Department has provided this critical data and has demonstrated a serious commitment to taking steps to prevent overdoses that will save lives.”

In response to a September letter led by Senator Markey, in which he urged DOD to act swiftly to address reports of rising fatal drug overdoses among active duty U.S. service members, the Department laid out its use of prevention, treatment, and harm reduction programs to address increases in overdose rates on military installations, as well as the administering of medication treatment for Opioid Use Disorder at military treatment facilities. According to the DOD, “The stigma surrounding treatment for SUD and mental health in general continues to be a challenge for both the military population.”

In their response to Senator Markey, the DOD reported 322 fatal overdoses among active duty service members between 2017 and 2021, and as many as 14,961 non-fatal overdoses from 2017 to the present. Of those fatal overdoses, 174 involved fentanyl, 54 of which occurred in 2021. From 2017 to 2021, 31 fatal overdoses occurred at Fort Bragg alone.

“Addressing drug abuse and preventing overdose deaths in our force is a high priority for the Department of Defense,” wrote Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros in his letter to Senator Markey and his colleagues. “Every drug overdose is a preventable loss of life and we must work to do better. The Department continues to evaluate, refine, and improve strategies for overdose prevention to ensure we are making every effort to prevent these tragic deaths.”

Further addressing the senators’ concerns, the DOD also outlined its process for notifying and providing support to families who have lost a loved one due to a fatal overdose, including on-base Survivor Outreach Services and the appointment of an investigating officer.

A copy of the DOD’s response, including data on fatal overdoses among active duty service members, can be found here.

In the 117th Congress, Senator Markey introduced his Opioid Treatment Access Act, legislation that would improve revise outdated regulations to enable patients being treated for Opioid Use Disorder to receive take-home doses of medication and allow pharmacies to dispense methadone for first-time treatment, and his STOP of Fentanyl Act, legislation that would bolster overdose prevention efforts, expand access to medication assisted treatment, and promote public health research and training to share data on fentanyl.