“It is the responsibility of every sailor to ensure that he or she is diligent in avoiding intentional or accidental exposure to federally-prohibited substances,” Nowell added.
The Navy announcement arrived two months after a March 29 Pentagon notice to the services that those substances would be added to the normal screening process, according to naval personnel spokesman Lt. Rick Moore.
As with other controlled substances screened by the Navy, any service members now found with fentanyl or its metabolite in their systems could face “punitive action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice Article 112a,” along with mandatory processing for administrative separation which might result in an “other than honorable characterization of service “ which can impact veteran benefits and employment opportunities,” Nowell warned.
He added that the Navy also reports unlawful drug users to the FBI so that their names can be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which hinders their ability to lawfully purchase firearms and ammunition.
The Pentagon push to test for fentanyl stems from a March 21 National Vital Statistics Report that revealed deaths tied to the synthetic opioid had risen from 1,615 in 2011 to 18,335 deaths in 2016.
Up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed to manage pain for cancer patients, most often applied in a patch on the skin. The bulk of black market fentanyl is made in Mexico, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.