The number of American troops dying from fentanyl more than doubled between 2017 and 2021, according to Department of Defense (DOD) data released Wednesday.
The data show that fentanyl was to blame for 54 overdose deaths in 2021, which account for 88% of drug deaths that year, according to DOD’s response to a bipartisan congressional inquiry. The number is a staggering increase from the 22 overdose deaths caused by fentanyl in 2017.
“Addressing drug abuse and preventing overdose deaths in our force is a high priority for the Department of Defense,” Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros said of the data in the response to congress. “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.”
Fentanyl is a highly potent synthetic narcotic. A potentially fatal dose of fentanyl only amounts to just 2 milligrams, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“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,” Democratic Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey said in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
The increase in fentanyl overdoses among U.S. troops coincides with an increase in drug overdoses across the nation, mainly driven by the synthetic narcotic. In 2021, more than 100,000 Americans died due to overdoses, more than 70% of which were caused by fentanyl.
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