Bipartisan, bicameral legislation would require DOD to track, publish overdose data for service members and their families while expanding access to treatment, prevention resources

Bill Text (PDF) 

Washington (May 30, 2023) – Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security and a member of the U.S. Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, alongside Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and Representatives Seth Moulton (MA-06) and Nancy Mace (SC-01), led their colleagues in announcing the introduction of theDepartment of Defense Overdose Data (DOD) Act,bipartisan and bicamerallegislationto address the impacts of the opioid epidemic among members of the U.S. military and their family. The legislation would require the Department of Defense to provide an annual public report outlining fatal and non-fatal overdoses among service members and military families, address barriers to care for substance use disorder (SUD), and expand access to overdose prevention tools like naloxone, a nasal spray capable of reversing a fatal opioid overdose, and fentanyl test strips.

“The opioid epidemic is reaching every community across our country, including military bases,” said Senator Markey.“One service member whose life is lost because they couldn’t get the help they need is unacceptable, yet in recent years, hundreds of service members have suffered a fatal overdose, and thousands more nearly did. The information we received from the Department of Defense is a call to action to address this epidemic’s impact on service members and their families and to institute systemic reform to prevent overdose, improve access to treatment, and reduce the stigma of asking for help.”

“The statistics uncovered by Senator Markey’s investigation – 15,000 active-duty overdose deaths or near-deaths between 2017-2021 – are extremely alarming. This is not only a tragedy for those individuals and their families, it is an institutional failure and a threat to our national defense,” said Congressman Moulton.“We need more data, more accountability, and a plan for stopping so many of these preventable deaths from happening in the future. This legislation would require critical reporting that will help destigmatize mental health in the military and inform solutions for decreasing overdoes and addiction rates.”

“Tragically, the impacts of fentanyl and the opioid crisis are felt across the country, including among the military community. Fully understanding the extent of this epidemic is important to how we approach the solutions, including how we provide support for military members struggling with substance misuse,” said Senator Murkowski. “I’ve long supported improving access to overdose prevention tools like naloxone, and this bipartisan effort to collect strong data will help improve efforts to address the opioid crisis, ultimately saving lives.”

“The substance use crisis is devastating communities across the country, and it's more important than ever that we take action to tackle this epidemic head-on, including by doing everything we can to protect our service members,” said Senator Warren. "I'm glad to partner with my colleagues to introduce this bipartisan legislation to expand access to treatment and prevention services for service members and require the Department of Defense to make its overdose data publicly available”

“Drug overdose among servicemembers is a serious problem that needs more attention – the number of fentanyl overdoses doubled from 2017 to 2021,” said Senator Braun. "This bill will help shed more light on this issue and find solutions.”

“As the daughter of an Army General, we understand the Department of Defense Overdose Data (DOD) Act is a crucial step towards addressing the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic within our armed forces,” said Congresswoman Mace. “We owe it to those who have put their lives on the line for our country to better understand the scope of the problem and implement effective solutions. Our military personnel and their loved ones make immense sacrifices for our nation, and it is our duty to ensure their well-being and access to necessary care.”

The introduction of theDOD Actfollows an investigation led by Senator Markey, which revealed that there were more than 15,000 fatal and non-fatal overdoses among active duty service members between 2017 and 2021. Of the 322 fatal overdoses reported, 174 involved fentanyl and 54 occurred in 2021 alone.In their letter to the Department of Defense requesting information on overdoses in the military, Senator Markey and four of his colleagues raised concerns about rising overdose deaths at Fort Bragg, as well asreportsof overdoses at Fort Bliss and West Point.

Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Angus King (I-Maine), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.) joined Senators Markey, Murkowski, Warren, and Braun as cosponsors.

Specifically, theDOD Actwould require the Department of Defense to:

  • Report annually on service member and military family overdoses and related data—including demographic data, substances involved, number of intentional overdoses, whether or not service members were prescribed naloxone before a non-fatal overdose, previous prescriptions, co-morbid mental health diagnoses, previous overdose history, referral to treatment, participation in treatment, history of positive drug tests, analysis of discernable patterns in overdoses, existing and anticipated response efforts, access to treatment, and available treatment programs;
  • Assess barriers to SUD treatment and prevention by engaging with a research center to identify solutions for increasing access to care, non-opioid pain management, interagency actions, and continuity of care while reducing stigma and educating service members on prevention, harm reduction, and treatment; and,
  • Develop a new standard for the distribution of naloxone or other medication for overdose reversal, opioid disposal materials, fentanyl test strips, and other materials to prevent or reduce overdose, SUD, or other impacts of substance use.

TheDOD Actis endorsed by theWounded Warrior Project, American Legion, SAFE Project, Faces and Voices of Recovery, Home Base, Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund, Mass General Brigham, Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, and the Cape & Islands Veterans Outreach Center.

“There is no question that the United States Department of Defense always has an extraordinary level of responsibility to the nation and to those who serve the nation. Promises are made to civilians when they become members of the military. Promises of care for service related injuries are made, but some injuries are much more difficult to see, diagnose, and treat,”said Stephanie Keegan, Gold Star Mother and Veterans’ Advocate.“As with any injury the more information available on historic treatment methods, successes and failures of treatment, and gaps in treatment brings with it more formidable care plans, more successful treatment programs, and a higher level of improved quality of life while also slowing the numbers of suffering and death. Gathering the information that will be a product of the of implementation of the Department of Defense Overdose Act of 2023 will save lives, strengthen families, and build longer and more successful military careers for many. This bill is extremely important and has my absolute endorsement and full support.”

“Wounded Warrior Project’s 2023 Annual Warrior Survey results showed that substantial or severe levels of drug abuse and misuse can have a negative impact on veterans’ mental health and ultimately their quality of life,”said Jose Ramos, Vice President of Government and Community Relations at the Wounded Warrior Project.“As awareness, legislative efforts, and education efforts around opioid use and misuse have increased, we are happy to support an effort for more transparency around opioid issues within the Department of Defense. We appreciate Senator Markey’s leadership in introducing the Department of Defense Overdose Disclosure Act.”

“The escalating trend of substance abuse and overdoses among active-duty service members is alarming, necessitating that Congress take swift and decisive action to address this critical issue,”said Vincent J. “Jim” Troiola, National Commander at The American Legion.“TheDepartment of Defense Overdose Act of 2023, spearheaded by Senator Markey, highlights the significance of comprehensive analysis and tailored interventions, promoting health and resilience for our nations service members through improved prevention and support measures. The American Legion expresses gratitude to Senator Markey for his leadership and is honored to endorse this legislation.”

“Far too many Veterans and Services Members turn to drugs to cope with the physical pain, intense emotions, traumatic memories and the difficulties of adjusting to civilian life,”said Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Jack Hammond, Executive Director of Home Base.“I have seen firsthand countless warriors struggle with unseen injuries that proved to be just as debilitating as anything visible. The men and women who defend our nation deserve better. The DOD Act will allow us to fulfill our promise to never forget our nation’s heroes by ensuring better access to education, treatment and resources to those who are struggling with substance use and mental health concerns to heal the invisible wounds and provide hope.”

“The Department of Defense’s identification of 332 fatal drug overdoses and nearly 15,000 non-fatal overdoses is alarming. These are not just statistics, but represent lives lost and a staggering number of service members experiencing non-fatal overdose. This is an unacceptable situation,”said Jeff Horwitz, Chief Executive Officer of the SAFE Project.“Monitoring and tracking these numbers is an essential measure in addressing and resolving this problem. Understanding the true extent of the crisis is a critical first step which must lead to a collaborative approach to combat the multifaceted nature of this issue. With accurate and timely information, we can reduce overdoses, improve mental health supports, and ultimately create a safer and healthier future for our service members and their families.”

“More than 1 in 10 veterans have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder, which can be magnified in severity by social and medical risk factors such as chronic pain, suicide risk, trauma, and homelessness. The importance of acknowledging these issues—and finding successful treatment interventions—is not just a concern of the military, but a public health responsibility. Substance use treatment should be seen as a normal and accessible part of healthcare,”said Dr. Gregg Meyer, President of the Mass General Brigham Community Division and former Colonel in the United States Air Force.

Earlier this month, Senator Markey ledfive of his colleagues in a letter to the Biden administration urging federal health officials make key pandemic-era telehealth flexibilities permanent for SUD treatment andcare. In March, he and his colleagues introduced their bipartisan and bicameralModernizing Opioid Treatment Access Actto improve access to methadone, a SUD medication treatment, by modernizing outdated rules. In December, Senator Markey secured his bipartisan Opioid Treatment Access Act(OTAA)—legislation that reduces wait times for patients qualifying for methadone medication treatment and expands access to methadone clinics—into the end-of-year omnibus spending package. That same month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would remove barriers to SUD treatment, such as allowing people to take home doses of methadone medication, which are key provisions included in the OTAA.