THE U.S. ARMY Special Forces, better known as the Green Berets, has a serious problem with substance abuse and fatal drug overdoses. The same is true of the Army’s two most important infantry divisions: the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division.
That’s the takeaway of data released by the Pentagon this week to a group of five U.S. senators, led by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey. Markey, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and others grew concerned about rising drug use in the military after reading a report in the September issue of Rolling Stone that at least 14 and as many as 30 American soldiers had died in 2020 and 2021 of overdoses at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Fort Bragg is the headquarters of the Special Forces, as well as the top-secret Joint Special Operations Command, the “black ops” component of the military.
The senators wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in late September requesting detailed statistics, going back five years, on accidental overdoses in the ranks. “We share your concern that drug overdose is a serious problem,” the Pentagon’s undersecretary for personnel and readiness wrote in response this week. “We must work to do better.”
A total of 15,293 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines overdosed on illicit drugs from 2017 to 2022, according to a compendium of data and analysis enclosed with the letter. Of those, 332 cases were fatal.
Consistent with Rolling Stone’s recent reporting, the data showed a rising long-term trend, followed by a sharp spike in overdose deaths among active-duty military men in 2020 and 2021. Fentanyl was by far the biggest killer, accounting for more than half of the casualties. “The number of OD deaths involving fentanyl has more than doubled over the past five years,” the Pentagon disclosed.
“With hundreds of fatal overdoses reported on U.S. military bases in recent years,” Markey writes in a statement to Rolling Stone, “the toll is mounting. We can and must curb this tragic trend.”