FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (WKRN) – It’s a battle they often never see coming. In a letter to lawmakers, the Pentagon revealed the hard truth about America’s fentanyl crisis, which is now infiltrating the military.
“We’ve got to turn off the supply,” said U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri).
More than half of all fatal overdoses in the military are connected to fentanyl. The report from the Pentagon also included overdoses at Fort Campbell, where the department revealed 18 overdoses occurred there between 2017 and 2021.
“Any of those kinds of numbers whether they are in the civilian world, or whether they are in the military world, are concerning,” said Eden Murrie, CEO of Operation Stand Down.
Operation Stand Down is located throughout Tennessee, including its Clarksville campus, located near Fort Campbell. The organization works strictly with Veterans, but so often they are helping people find resources stemming from the after-effects of their service.
Data shows the majority of fatal drug overdoses are accidental. The second cause is linked to suicide.
“Any kind of addiction can lead you down a path, unfortunately, of thinking of taking your own life. We don’t want that to happen,” Murrie explained.
In a letter to senators, the Pentagon explained, “drug abuse has a substantial impact on the degradation of total force readiness, not to mention the irrevocable impact on service members and their families.”
In 2017, fentanyl was involved in 36% of fatal overdoses. That number rose to 88%, in 2021.
“We need to secure the border and stop the entry of fentanyl across the border, into every state and locality across our border,” said Hawley.
The majority of fentanyl has been coming into the United States through cartels. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), only 5% to 10% of it is seized, which is causing lawmakers to urge Congress to step in with more tools to help.
“We have the technology capacity to inspect every vehicle now, but we haven’t yet invested at a level that allows us to do that,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia).
Department of Defense officials sent News 2 the following statement, in response to the increase in drug overdoses within the military:
“While we are not immune to societal trends, the Department of Defense maintains a robust drug testing urinalysis program to ensure our personnel are physically fit and ready to meet our nation’s defense needs, and to deter prohibited drug use. Addressing drug abuse and preventing overdose deaths is a Department priority, both to take care of our people and because prohibited drug use harms our readiness. We are a partner in ending the national overdose crisis and are working to better understand this complex problem. To tackle this issue, we have developed comprehensive, evidence-based strategies to address and prevent drug misuse and overdose utilizing a combination of prevention, effective treatment, and harm reduction programs. We are also increasing outreach strategies to inform Service members and their families on the facts and risks related to drug use including impacts on career, health, and overall well-being and promote and destigmatize substance use disorder treatment. We will continue visiting all installations with higher incidences of drug overdoses and meeting with leadership and Service members to better understand what additional actions and resources are needed.”Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, Department of Defense