With military recruitment already struggling, we cannot afford a fentanyl crisis in our armed forces
Special to Stars and Stripes October 26, 2023
The fentanyl crisis continues to rage across the United States. Families from Alaska to Maine have felt the impact of this crisis driven by a manufactured opioid shake them to their core. Unfortunately, this crisis has reached our service members. In the U.S. Army and Navy, our two largest branches, we’ve learned that fentanyl deaths are on the rise. As a veteran, I recognize firsthand that this is a dangerous threat to our national security and the Biden administration must be held accountable for its policies that have played a central role in the crisis.
A committee on which I serve in Congress, the House Committee on Homeland Security, just this week released a report detailing the tragic human costs of the border crisis playing out under Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ policies, including the lives lost to the fentanyl flowing across the border.
And make no mistake, we found the rise in fentanyl deaths is a direct result of the current administration’s open borders policies, and our service members are paying the price. In 2021, fentanyl was the leading cause of overdose deaths among active-duty service members. According to the Department of Defense, 127 soldiers died of fentanyl poisoning between 2015 and 2022.
Unfortunately, we also lost 27 soldiers in 2021, a record number, to fentanyl. Fentanyl was responsible for more than half of all the Army’s overdose deaths from 2017 to 2021. In the Navy, where I served for 14 years, young sailors are also losing their lives to this lethal substance. In 2020 alone, the Navy, launched five investigations into fentanyl-related deaths at Naval Station Great Lakes in Illinois. Since then, we have no information from the Navy regarding how many more have lost their lives in the past three years, despite the media’s effort to obtain answers from the department. This synthetic drug is killing our service members. We must stop its flow into our military installations.
Recruitment is already suffering under the politicized leadership of this administration. One 2018 report documented how only 29% of young Americans between 17 and 24 are eligible to serve in the military. We certainly cannot afford to lose those service members who are able to wear the uniform to a preventable tragedy like fentanyl poisoning.
China’s malign influence has not only been responsible for pervasive military intellectual property theft and gross abuse of human rights, but also the fentanyl epidemic. The Chinese Communist Party manufactures the majority of the precursor chemicals needed to create fentanyl and then exports them to Latin America. The cartels create the fentanyl and either force others to carry the drug into the United States on their behalf or create diversions at the border to sneak it across themselves. We know that over 50% of all fentanyl coming into the country is coming through Arizona’s border. The Biden administration’s refusal to secure our borders has resulted in American lives being lost. Our adversaries are attempting to undermine and weaken us, whether it’s our border security, our public health, or our military strength. We must secure our borders, hold the CCP accountable, and reinforce our military dominance on the world stage.
No parent should ever have to bury their own child. Sometimes, in the military, however, those are the immeasurable sacrifices our Gold Star Families are being forced to make. Now, a growing number of families are losing their children not on a distant battlefield, but to the opioid crisis in our own backyard. How many of our nation’s heroes are we going to lose to this drug before President Joe Biden and Alejandro Mayorkas address this national security crisis?
As a combat veteran, our obligation is to support those who serve and make the ultimate sacrifices for our country. Our service members swore an oath to protect our nation, but it’s up to us to protect them in return. Just like we wouldn’t jump into another war because we value the lives of our soldiers, we cannot allow this crisis to continue. The DHS’ primary objective is to protect the homeland. Mayorkas has done the opposite. Our nation is now in a more vulnerable state because he has enabled our adversaries, including the cartels, to take advantage of the administration’s open-borders policies. By allowing fentanyl to reach our service members, this administration has jeopardized our armed forces and national security. There will be accountability for these failures and for the needless deaths of our service members.
Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a Republican, represents Texas’ 8th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.