COLORADO SPRINGS — The number of people dying from drug overdoses in Colorado is a concern for many elected officials. Local and federal law enforcement wants to see more done specifically with fentanyl-related deaths.
It’s a topic of conversation in Colorado right now as state lawmakers are working on legislation and looking to increase penalties for fentanyl dealers.
However, local law enforcement said they think more needs to be done. In the meantime, they are getting help from federal agencies.
A bill that’s currently going through the legislative process in Denver, would aim to increase penalties for fentanyl manufacturers and dealers.
It would not include harsher punishments for possession of fentanyl, which currently stands as a misdemeanor.
“What is the risk? What is the deterrent for the criminals who are peddling these drugs? If it's just a misdemeanor and not a felony, the risk of the prosecution is just not there,” said Joseph Roybal, El Paso County Undersheriff.
Roybal was among those who spoke at a press conference Thursday morning to update the community and media members on the fentanyl crisis.
Roybal added, “We are going up to the legislature and we are being a loud, one voice. We're putting pressure on the legislature to make sure that fentanyl is a felony once again.”
Meanwhile, local law enforcement is working to make sure offenders are prosecuted appropriately, but District Attorney Michael Allen says current laws in Colorado make it challenging.
“Currently, state law does not allow us the same sentencing that the federal system does, and so we want to make sure the people of this community understand that we do care about these cases,” said Allen. “We’re effectively investigating these cases, and we’re working with all of our partners to make sure these people are prosecuted and put in prison where they deserve to be.”
The fentanyl crisis has become such a big issue that in some cases, federal authorities are getting involved.
United States Attorney for the District of Colorado, Cole Finegan, said, “In those instances where it makes more sense for the federal government to step in and prosecute, we will do so. We have more authority and the ability under the federal statutes to charge and prosecute people”
In cases where the federal government can enhance sentences, all of these partners will identify cases to take to the U.S. Department of Justice. The message though has remained the same for all dealers and distributors.
“I want this to be a loud message. Drug dealers dealing fentanyl in our community are not welcome here. We will hold you accountable for dealing fentanyl in this community. And if you kill someone with your poison, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Allen. “Fentanyl is quite simply the most dangerous drug on our streets today, and the deadliest drug our society has ever faced.
During the news conference, leaders said it’s a three-step approach in addressing the fentanyl crisis which includes: aggressive prosecution for criminals, resources for those recovering and education.
Local law enforcement said one of the biggest ways to obtain fentanyl in the Colorado Springs community is through social media and Tik Tok, which many children and teens use on a daily basis. They noted that there have been several juvenile deaths in our area.
“Education is key. Be aware, talk with your children and talk with your loved ones. If you’re using drugs, seek help. Anybody who is using, can seek out a police officer, and they can provide you with resources for recovery,” said Adrian Vasquez, CSPD Interim Chief.
Last year more than 850 people died in Colorado from a fentanyl overdose, which was almost a 60% increase from the previous year. In Colorado compared to other states, the drug overdose death rate in the state is 18 per 100,000 residents. That rate is 13% below the national average. In Colorado Springs, CSPD’s death investigations increased almost 150% from 2019 to 2020. In 2020, 40% of overdose deaths were fentanyl-related.
Local law enforcement understands that the community and parents have a lot of questions about the fentanyl crisis. They hope to have a town hall meeting soon and are working out the details right now.
Local and federal authorities are also asking the community for help to identify illegal activity and distribution of fentanyl.
Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers wants to remind people that by calling the tip line at 719-634-STOP (7867), a person can anonymously submit a tip about illegal activity, and distribution or sale of the drug. You will not be asked to identify yourself and may qualify for a cash reward.