Sen. Murkowski’s Defense Department overdose data bill could be included in annual defense package

Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 2:15 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - The Senate passed its proposal for the country’s annual defense bill last week. The House approved its own version a couple weeks before the upper chamber. Now both sides will work to reach an agreement when they return from recess in September.

Among the issues lawmakers want addressed, studying the damage the opioid epidemic has caused the military community.

According to a recent Defense Department report, from 2017-2021, more than 300 service members died and more than 15,000 overdosed on drugs and alcohol. And more than half of those that died used the synthetic opioid, fentanyl.

“I think we were all pretty shocked when we saw the statistics come from the Department of Defense,” said USN Capt (RET) Jeff Horwitz, CEO, of SAFE (Stopping the Addiction Fatality Epidemic) Project. “Before we’re going to be able to solve all of the addiction crisis, whether it’s with veterans or elsewhere, we have to actually understand what the problem is.”

That is why SAFE Project supports a bill requiring D.O.D. to give yearly reports on overdoses among service members and their families, research barriers to treatment and promote education and prevention. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is one of the sponsors of the Senate’s proposal.

“We need to know the statistics. We need to know the numbers so that we can act better,” said Murkowski.

Earlier this year, a high-ranking Defense Department official wrote a letter to Murkowski saying, “The department continues to evaluate, refine, and improve strategies for overdose prevention to ensure we are making every effort to prevent these tragic deaths.”

The Pentagon maintains the rate U.S. service members are dying from drug and alcohol overdoses is lower than the general public.

As for the bill, it was folded into the annual defense package which will come to a vote in September.