US Army Sees Record Number of Fatal ODs From This Drug

Fentanyl is hitting all military branches, but none as hard as the Army, and loved ones want answers
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 14, 2023 8:28 AM CDT
US Army Sees Record Number of Fatal ODs From This Drug
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Darwin Brandis)

Earlier this year, Congress received some sobering data from the Department of Defense showing that fentanyl was involved in 88% of the 2021 deaths of US troops who'd died of drug overdoses—up from just 36% five years earlier. "Our military is not immune to the opioid epidemic," Democratic Sen. Ed Markey said at the time, per the Military Times. "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." One military branch, however, has been hit especially hard by the synthetic opioid: the Army, which saw a record number of fatal overdoses in 2021, per new data obtained by the Washington Post.

The Army saw 127 of its soldiers die from fentanyl ODs between 2015 and 2022—more than twice the number of Army personnel who died in combat in Afghanistan in that same period, per casualty records. An Army spokeswoman tells the Post that the military's drug problem is a "priority." "One drug overdose is one too many," Heather Hagan says. But multiple families tell the paper that their loved ones didn't develop drug issues until they joined the Army, and they're not optimistic that things will change for the better anytime soon. "I would like to know every possible thing that I could, but I know I never will," says Theresa Conley, whose 35-year-old son, Ronald, based at Fort Bragg (now Fort Liberty), died in 2022 after taking a fentanyl variant while at leadership training in Virginia. Days passed before his body was found in his room.

North Carolina's Fort Liberty has seen the most overdoses from all drugs of any Army base, a crisis first profiled in a September Rolling Stone report. The level of drug abuse among the US armed forces has concerned lawmakers enough to spur them to introduce a bill last month that would mandate the DOD publicly publish information on overdoses annually, in addition to providing better services to those suffering from addiction. But as the Post article, and a related one from February in, show, families of service members don't think the military is doing enough, especially when it comes to the scourge of fentanyl. "Quite honestly, I really wish that they would just talk about it," says Rachael Bowman, whose 20-year-old son, Matthew, died in 2021 at Fort Liberty after taking fentanyl-laced Percocet. "You can't fix the problem if you're in denial." Much more here from the Post. (More fentanyl stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.