PUBLISHED: 09:46 EST, 21 April 2012 | UPDATED: 13:20 EST, 21 April 2012
The U.S. Army has investigated 56 soldiers in Afghanistan on suspicion of using or distributing heroin, morphine or other opiates during 2010 and 2011.
Eight soldiers died of drug overdoses during that time, the newly obtained data also reveals.
While military officials says that the issue is not a pervasive one, a judicial watchdog claim the problem is more serious.
The U.S. Army says that while the presence of readily available opium – the raw ingredient for heroin – is a concern, opiate abuse has not been an extensive problem for troops in Afghanistan.
‘We have seen sporadic cases of it, but we do not see it as a widespread problem, and we have the means to check,’ said Colonel Tom Collins, an army spokesman.
However, Tom Fitton, president of conservative watchdog Judicial Watch who requested the investigation, said the problem is bigger than the military is prepared to admit, reports Associated Press.
They need to be more vigilant about watching and warning troops in Afghanistan about drug abuse, he warned.
‘The danger, including the danger of dying, hasn’t been fully acknowledged by the military and it needs to be,’ he said.
Statistics released earlier this year reported nearly 70,000 drug offenses by roughly 36,000 soldiers between 2006 and 2011.
The number of offenses increased from about 9,400 in 2010 to about 11,200 in 2011.
The overdose totals for the two years, however, are double the number that the Defense Department has reported as drug-related deaths in Afghanistan for the last decade.
The data represents only the criminal investigations done by Army Criminal Investigation Command involving soldiers in Afghanistan during those two years.
Officials suggested that additional deaths may have been categorised as ‘other’ or were still under investigation when the statistics were submitted.
The cases provide a somber snapshot of the illicit trade in the war zone, including young Afghans peddling heroin, soldiers dying after mixing cocktails of opiates, troops stealing from medical bags and Afghan soldiers and police dealing drugs to their U.S. comrades.
Army officials say they do random drug testing through the service and the goal is that every soldier is tested at least once a year.
Top military leaders have said they have not met that goal, but have been working steadily to substantially increase the number of those tested each year.
The officials also say the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division has quarterly drug statistics that show that drug use by troops in Afghanistan is not greater than that of troops in installations back in the United States and there is less of a variance in drugs used by troops in Afghanistan.
The Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps have not yet responded to the request for similar information.
The army reports blacked out the names of the soldiers who were under investigation as well any resolution of their cases or punishments they may have received.