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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

The U.S. Army Has a Fentanyl Problem (Thanks to Mexico and China)

US Army
Spc. Anthony Tramonte, assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment of the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division, a native of Peachtree City, Ga., lines up a target as Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Corter, an instructor with the U.S. Army Sniper School and a native of Casa Grande, Ariz., coaches him during the final day of M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) qualifications at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson's Grezelka Range, July 10, 2013. The brigade's soldiers are attending the U.S. Army Mobile Sniper School, a five-week course with graded marksmanship on the M24 Sniper System, M110 SASS, and the M107 .50-Caliber Long Range Sniper Rifle. Students are also trained and graded in range estimation, target detection, stalking techniques, and written exams. Upon successful completion, all students will receive a diploma and those soldiers holding an infantry and/or special forces military occupational specialty will receive a B4 additional skill identifier. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)

Fentanyl and more – How China and Mexico are poisoning our military: The Army is in the midst of a recruiting shortfall, despite a record retention rate, and the recent news isn’t going to help its recruiting matters anytime soon. Still smarting over a sexual assault crisis that rose by 13 percent, there is an alarming increase in drug overdose deaths, even among elite units.

A recent article in Rolling Stone magazine highlighted the problem that Ft. Bragg, NC, has with illicit drugs, and death by drug overdose is now the leading cause of death for soldiers at the sprawling military base that is the home of the 82nd Airborne and the 18th Airborne Corps, as well as the 3rd Special Forces Group. The Special Forces training pipeline is also located at Ft. Bragg. 

But it isn’t just a Ft. Bragg problem. It is an Army and a nationwide issue that has to be addressed. During this year’s college spring break, six cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were hospitalized in Florida for ingesting cocaine laced with fentanyl

The number of drug overdose deaths is rising alarmingly in the U.S. In 2020, there were nearly 92,000 overdose deaths in the U.S., with 56,516 dying from synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. In 2021, there were more than 107,000 Americans that died of drug overdoses, which is the highest annual death toll ever recorded and a 15 percent increase over 2020.

But a closer look reveals that much of the illicit drugs – but not all – responsible for accidental overdoses can be traced to the Mexican drug cartels who get their precursor chemicals from China

Why the Huge Spike in Drug Overdose Deaths?

In asking the question above, the answer is probably twofold. First, it seems more people have begun using illicit drugs as a way to cope with the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But the second factor is that since the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a massive influx of the distribution of fentanyl all across the United States. According to Dr. Volkow, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine and cocaine overdose deaths have also spiked. 

“Fentanyl is being used not just to be sold by itself, but very frequently sold to contaminate heroin or, more recently, to contaminate cocaine and contaminate methamphetamine, and, even more recently, to contaminate illicitly manufactured prescription drugs,” she said.

“And because fentanyl is so potent, it increases the risk of overdose significantly. So, people that in the past were able to take drugs more or less safely are now actually at a very high risk of overdosing,” she added.

Fort Bragg Has Lost a Staggering Amount of Troops Recently

The piece in Rolling Stone states that “a total of 109 soldiers assigned to Fort Bragg, active and reserve, lost their lives in 2020 and 2021, casualty reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show. Only four of the deaths occurred in overseas combat operations. All the rest took place stateside. Fewer than 20 were from natural causes. All the rest were preventable. This is a seemingly unprecedented wave of fatalities on a modern U.S. military installation.”

The Army reported 45 deaths on base in 2020, but through the Freedom of Information Act, Rolling Stone learned there were 56. In 2021, a Ft. Bragg spokesman said the number of deaths on the base was 38, but Rolling Stone learned that the number was 53. According to the Army there were six drug overdose deaths on base, but there were probably at least 11, as many were to have died from “unspecified” illegal substances. 

Local newspaper, The Fayetteville Observer, reported on the alarming month where soldiers died at an alarming rate from unexplained causes, and published an article on Oct. 30,2021 that tied together the cases of “six soldiers found dead in barracks on post.” Ft. Bragg’s answer was to stop posting any notices about drug-related deaths.

Fentanyl overdoses are now the leading cause of deaths in the United States for people under the age of 45. There has been an explosion of counterfeit Xanax, Adderall, hydrocodone, percoccet, and other legal drugs that are purchased on the street, many of which are laced with fentanyl. Many of these overdoses may in fact be accidental poisonings. Where are all of the illicit fake drugs coming from? Not to mention cocaine and meth that are laced with fatal amounts of fentanyl.

The Mexico/China Connection

Not only are the Mexican drug cartels running nearly unchallenged south of the border, but their presence is being felt here in the United States and they are operating with the same deadly approach that they use in Mexico. And worse still, they have been operating for over 30 years with help from Chinese chemists.

First by getting the precursor drugs to make methamphetamine, but now the Chinese are shipping vast amounts of fentanyl to Mexico, where the two main cartels (the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) are the most important Mexican suppliers of the drug and its precursors are running their own factories, which produce fake pills as well as lacing cocaine and meth that come across our borders.

China’s Efforts to Destroy and Destabilize America

I spoke with Derek Maltz, who was a member of the DEA for 28 years. Maltz was the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the United States Department of Justice (DOJ), Special Operations Division (SOD) for almost 10 years and previously held the position as the Chief of the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force, which is the oldest and largest drug task force in America.

Maltz is quick to point out this isn’t a Red vs. Blue issue, it is a Red, White, and Blue issue that is killing our citizens.

Artillery Fire

A battery of 105mm Light Artillery guns manned by 103 Regiment (V) Royal Artillery opens fire during a military pageant.
The versatile 105mm light gun is used by the parachute and commando field artillery regiments of the British Army.
The light gun can be towed by a medium-weight vehicle or carried around the battlefield underslung by a Chinook helicopter.
Royal Artillery L118 light guns are fitted with an automatic pointing system (APS), which enables the gun to be unlimbered and in action in 30 seconds. APS is based on an inertial navigation system, operated via a touch screen, it replaces the traditional dial sight.

This all began around 2008-2009 when the U.S. was bombarded with “bath salts” and other synthetic drugs produced in Chinese labs. 

The first big fentanyl outbreak of overdose deaths occurred in the Midwest in the mid-2000s and took thousands of lives. 

The DEA tracked the production facility to a single lab in Toluca, Mexico, where one of the lab’s operators told authorities that he’d bought the necessary chemicals from a Chinese company. Once Mexican authorities shut down the lab, the overdoses stopped.

Unlike in Latin America, where the DEA built up solid contacts with host nation police and para-military counternarcotics officers, China posed different problems. The Chinese insisted that they did not have a fentanyl problem. What they had was a fentanyl strategy.

Maltz told me that this is “China’s strategy of destroying and destabilizing America from within by distributing its poison.” He characterized it as “unrestricted warfare.”

Weapon of Mass Destruction

Fentanyl is extremely powerful; a sugar packet packet-sized bag of fentanyl can kill 500 people. So much fentanyl is floating into the U.S. that the San Diego and Imperial California border crossings seized 5,091 pounds of fentanyl coming into the U.S. and it didn’t slow down the availability of the drugs in the country. 

In just the past five years, drug overdose deaths are up 2,200 percent in California.

Maltz and many others (some in Congress in a bipartisan move) want to designate fentanyl as a weapon of mass destruction. Maltz wants to designate the cartels as terrorist organizations. 

“How would Americans react if we learned Hezbollah or al-Qaeda was setting up a bioweapons factory in Mexico? The cartels and China are doing just that.” 

He and many others want the U.S. to take on the cartels, and that will require strikes on labs and Special Operations teams operating inside of Mexico. If that were to happen, we would need the Mexicans to get on board. Will it happen? Time will tell, but the problem isn’t going away, it is only getting worse.

Expert Biography: Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. A proven military analyst, he served as a US Army Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer in the 7th Special Forces Group. In addition to writing for and other military news organizations, he has covered the NFL for for over 11 years. His work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.

Written By

Steve Balestrieri is a 1945 National Security Columnist. He has served as a US Special Forces NCO and Warrant Officer before injuries forced his early separation. In addition to writing for 1945, he covers the NFL for and his work was regularly featured in the Millbury-Sutton Chronicle and Grafton News newspapers in Massachusetts.



  1. Scooter Van Neuter

    September 7, 2022 at 3:04 pm

    Our entire country has a Fentanyl crisis, but it’s apparently more important to this administration to entertain open borders than to worry about something as trivial as hundreds of thousands of Americans dying from the drug…

  2. John Scanlon

    September 7, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    Drug use in the Army is nothing new. When I was stationed at Bragg in the 70’s, we use to call the 82nd Airborne, the Jumping Junkies. Last I heard, there were over 50k soldiers at Bragg. I’m too lazy to figure out if these drug death numbers are in-line with the total society.

  3. Jason The Argonaut

    September 7, 2022 at 3:42 pm

    Nothing is going to happen. It would take political will to take economic action against China. That would cost the elites money. There would have to be political will to stop smuggling across the southern border. Again, nothing is going to happen since the political elites will lose potential voters, and low wage workers.

  4. Michael Mitchell

    September 7, 2022 at 3:55 pm

    One glaring flaw with your story is that young, physical fit people are dying at enormous rates. The cause can only be the clot shot. Why would I say this? If we pay more attention to the mortician’s and Life Insurance agents they will quickly tell you (without bias) that something is wrong.Deaths among young people are up 40% across the U.S., above and beyond normal figures. I just read an article on The Citizen Free Press that morticians claim bodies are showing up with too many blood clots. Some reported blood clots is said to be as big around as you pinky finger and as long as your leg.

  5. buffalolips

    September 7, 2022 at 3:57 pm

    Where are the random blood or urine tests (both of which will detect cocaine and fentanyl) that were so prevalent in the US Armed Forces in the 1980s? If anybody cared about cocaine and fentanyl as much as they did about THC decades ago, they’d be testing for it. Both are detectable in blood or urine samples for 48-72 hours after ingesting.

  6. Sputnik

    September 7, 2022 at 4:29 pm

    No the Army has a fentanyl problem because of government policies. No quality potential soldier wants to be part of that sh*t-show.

  7. America declining

    September 7, 2022 at 4:40 pm

    A bigger problem than Wokeness or embracing Gay & Trans lifestyles or limiting the Chaplin Corp or trying to make female soldiers the physical equal to men or visa-versa, trivializing drug use or sexual assault? General Milley and his corp of traitors in the Pentagon, under Biden command, are doing their best to demoralize, feminize and undermine our once great Armed Forces! Unfortunately, America will not wake up in time. We have abortion to worry about!

  8. Matt Bracken

    September 7, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    Somebody might mention to our military brass (and to Senile Joe Bide, “Mr. 81 million votes!”, that DEFENDING OUR BORDER IS IN THE CONSTITUTION.

    [OUR border. Not The Ukraine’s]

    It’s in something called “The Guarantee Clause,” as in, “The Federal Govt Guarantees this,” and if not, they are in breech of contract, and the states can do it themselves.

    Article 4 Section 4: “The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion”


    Do more than a million unchecked “fighting age” men per year count as an INVASION? How many men in an army division???

  9. America declining

    September 7, 2022 at 4:50 pm

    Do you explain why a comment was deleted, or am I to assume I was in violation of my First Amendment rights?

  10. Beau Geste

    September 7, 2022 at 6:12 pm

    SADs (Sudden Adult Death syndrome), athlete’s dropping, blood clots. higher group life insurance claims in 18-45 starting early 2021.
    Could be the drug Fentanyl could be another drug or something else. I’m sure they did autopsy’s, seems like a good journalist could FOIA some of this and get closer to the truth.

  11. DJ

    September 7, 2022 at 6:18 pm

    Instead of blaming the ones who create the poison, look first at the kind of leadership in American government, and in all branches of the military. If good moral minded people were the ones at the top and in charge, much of the problems would not exist, and many would disappear.

  12. David

    September 7, 2022 at 7:49 pm

    In any organization; when you lower the standards, you get even lower performance.

  13. Ozzy

    September 7, 2022 at 7:53 pm

    The US military has a drug problem because the soldiers want to get stoned, smugglers are just providing a service.

    Fentanyl is just like moonshine easier to smuggle than weaker drugs like cocaine / heroine or beer. More lethal also.

    Prohibitionist are killing our citizens along with our own insanity and need to get stoned.

  14. David Wamsley

    September 7, 2022 at 10:57 pm

    We could solve this problem by upping the penalty for distributing fentanyl by having mandatory prison sentences of 15 years with out possibility of parole.
    Unlike what California did with 2 illegals who had 160,000 fentanyl pills. California released them on a signature bond. Who thinks they will be back in court?

  15. Prester Kahn

    September 8, 2022 at 3:39 am

    “He and many others want the U.S. to take on the cartels, and that will require strikes on labs and Special Operations teams operating inside of Mexico. ”

    While hitting the labs early may be necessary, the more important first step would be to declare any US person (citizen or otherwise) who is a member of a cartel as an “enemy combatant” and anyone working for them as guilty of “supporting a terrorist organization.” Then a vigorous cleanup of the US interior would need to be done. It makes no sense to have a general fight in someone else’s backyard when we have a major infestation right at home where the enemy can strike at will.

  16. Jai

    September 8, 2022 at 5:26 am

    The fentanyl problem has also been urged, promoted, and advocated by NY’s unelected governor and Cuomo Clone Kickback Kathy Hochul who, along with Biden’s HHS, circulated poster ads with the direct message that illegal drug use is “empowering”.

  17. Polycarp Flavius

    September 8, 2022 at 1:50 pm

    Not turning ones self to God in child like love, exercising the Christian Morality, virtues will lead the individual to become addicted to carnal pleasures.

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