ICYMI: At Hearing, Warren Calls on DoD to Require Annual Reporting of Service Member Overdoses
“Harm reduction services save lives. We need to be doing everything that we can to mitigate overdoses among our service members, including using harm reduction services that are available, and then tracking whether or not they are having the outcomes that we hoped for.”
Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Personnel, called on the Department of Defense (DoD) to require annual reporting and data tracking of service member overdoses, and stressed the importance of providing harm reduction services for service members, including naloxone.
In September 2022, Senators Warren, Ed Markey (D-Mass), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) sent a letter to DoD about reports on high levels of fatal drug overdoses involving opioids and fentanyl at Fort Bragg, Fort Bliss, and West Point. DoD’s response revealed a total of 15,293 active duty service member overdoses from 2017 to February 2023.
In response to Senator Warren’s questions, Christine Wormuth, Secretary of the Army, confirmed that DoD has no annual reporting on service member overdoses and committed to working with Senator Warren to increase accessibility to harm reduction services.
Transcript: To Receive Testimony on the Posture of the Department of the Army in Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal year 2024 and the Future Years Defense Program
U.S. Senator Committee on Armed Services
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I’d also like to express my condolences to the family and the friends of the nine soldiers who were killed in the Army helicopter crash at Fort Campbell. It is a reminder of how much we owe to every one of our service members who put themselves in harm's way on our behalf. So it's a very sad day.
I want to thank our witnesses for being here today. What I want to talk about today is behavioral health. Improving behavioral health resources and access for our service members is critical to supporting those who are already sacrificing so much to serve our country. And I'm deeply concerned that we are not doing enough to address the crisis of substance use disorder for our service members. So last fall, I sent a letter to the Defense Department along with my colleagues, Senator Markey, Senator Cornyn, Senator Murkowski, and Senator Heinrich on reports of high levels of fatal drug overdoses involving opioids and fentanyl at Fort Bragg, Fort Bliss, and West Point.
In DoD’s response, we discovered a total of 15, 293 active duty service member overdoses from 2017 to February of 2023. There were 332 fatal overdoses.
Now, this is a problem for all of the services. But the Army had the highest rate of overdose death. Secretary Wormuth, one of the ways for us to be able to address this issue is to understand the extent of the problem. Is there any kind of annual public reporting on service member overdoses?
Christine Wormuth, Secretary of the Army: Senator, I'm sure that we track that data.
Senator Warren: I didn't ask if you track the data, I asked if you had a regular reporting of the data because I couldn't find one.
Secretary Wormuth: We may not and we probably should have one.
Senator Warren: Okay, there's no annual reporting. And I just want to make clear, the only reason we know the numbers that I just cited is because DoD provided it as an answer to our letter. Public data that are updated on an ongoing basis would help us better understand and track this problem, and whether any new policies that DoD implements are effective. We've got to collect the numbers to know what's happening here.
Now, one other aspect of this, DoD’s data showed that more than 80% of fatal overdoses by service members were accidental. One thing that could help us prevent accidental overdoses from becoming fatal overdoses is easy accessibility of the overdose reversal drug, naloxone.
Secretary Wormuth, DoD says that it provides naloxone and high-risk cases, which is a good best practice. How often has the army provided naloxone to service members and their families?
Secretary Wormuth: I don't have that information, Senator Warren, off the top of my head. I do know that we have established a public awareness campaign for our soldiers called one pill can kill. And for example, at Fort Bragg, every single newly arriving soldier gets that prevention training because we are deeply concerned, particularly with fentanyl being as prevalent as it is, we are deeply concerned about making sure our soldiers know the dangers there.
Senator Warren: And I want you to know, I very much appreciate that you're trying to engage in other harm reduction techniques here. I'm in favor of that. But I want to make the pitch that it needs to be more coordinated and that we need better accountability. You got to have the numbers, what programs are you trying and what effect is it having on outcomes?
We know across this country now that harm reduction services save lives. We need to be doing everything that we can to mitigate overdoses among our service members, including using harm reduction services that are available, and then tracking whether or not they are having the outcomes that we hoped for. So I'd like to be able to work with you more on this and see if we can get a stronger program in place.
Secretary Wormuth: We'd welcome that.
Senator Warren: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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