An alarming new exposé from Rolling Stone highlights the fact that the U.S. military is not immune to the nation’s ongoing opioid epidemic.
Through casualty reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Rolling Stone found that a total of 109 soldiers assigned to Fort Bragg, active and reserve, lost their lives in 2020 and 2021. Only four of the deaths occurred in overseas combat operations.
Fort Bragg, located in North Carolina south of Raleigh, is one of the largest military bases in the world and is the headquarters of several of the Army’s commands.
After suicide, accidental overdose is the leading cause of death at Fort Bragg. A total of 21 deaths in the two years ending December 2021 can likely to attributed to drug overdoses, according to Rolling Stone.
The exposé highlights the story of Matthew Disney, who was a 20-year-old soldier stationed at Fort Bragg. Disney was found dead along with fellow radarman Joshua Diamond in the Fort Bragg barracks. Military investigators informed Disney’s mother, Racheal Bowman, that he had ingested an imitation Percocet, a prescription painkiller. The cause of death was acute fentanyl intoxication.
Rolling Stone found that at least 14, and as many as 30, Fort Bragg soldiers have died in this way since the start of 2020: “quietly, in their barracks, in their bunks, in a parked car, or somewhere off-post, from no outwardly apparent cause.”
“All these deaths are happening in the same way, and no one is talking about it,” Bowman told Rolling Stone. “It’s all very secretive. It’s all swept under the rug.” She adds, “This is obviously a problem. How is it that nobody knows about it?”
Rolling Stone also obtained the casualty reports for every U.S. soldier across the entire Army who died in 2021. The documents show that of 505 total deaths, 33 were confirmed overdoses. This number “would make overdose a leading cause of death among American soldiers,” behind suicide, illness, and accidents, but well ahead of homicides and combat fatalities. Rolling Stone notes that there were also 27 cases in which death resulted from “undetermined” causes, at least several of which were likely overdoses.
The opioid crisis has affected the military at all levels. Earlier this year, five cadets at West Point — the institution tasked with training the next generation of Army leadership — were treated for overdosing on fentanyl while on spring break. All the cadets survived.
Throughout America, 56,516 people died from overdosing on synthetic opioids like fentanyl in 2020.