Multi-agency effort launches to combat Colorado heroin epidemic

Posted at 4:08 PM, Apr 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-17 18:08:32-04

Heroin and opioid abuse in Colorado is increasing at an alarming rate.  From 2011 to 2016, the number of heroin-related deaths in Colorado nearly tripled from 79 to 228.  During the same period, emergency responders have seen a 248 percent increase in utilization of NARCAN to treat overdosing patients and the number of law enforcement seizures of heroin increased a whopping 2,320 percent, from 20 in 2011 to 482 in 2016.

Tuesday in Denver, a group of multiple law enforcement and public health agencies gathered at the Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office to announce the Heroin Impact Project, a two-pronged approach to combating the scourge of opioid-related drug addiction in Colorado.  One prong is to help people affected by heroin/fentanyl use through Operation Helping Hand, the other prong is to aggressively track down, arrest, prosecute, and incarcerate sellers and illegal prescribers through Operation Poison Pushers.

"We’re coming after you, so quit or suffer the consequences," warned Tom Gorman, Director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA).  "For those people that are using heroin, that are addicted to heroin, we want you back.  We want you back to use your skills, your talent, we want you to help other people stay away from this terrible plight," Gorman said.

Bob Troyer, U.S. Attorney for Colorado, says law enforcement and health providers are now at a point of anger in dealing with the heroin problem.  "It comes from seeing first hand the death, the torment, the suffering, the terror that an addict feels, that the family members of that addict feel and live with and are changed forever by," Troyer said.

Troyer vowed aggressive prosecution of heroin and fentanyl sellers in an effort to cut off the supply chain.  "We have a Federal statue that gets you a mandatory minimum 20 years in Federal prison if the substance you distribute to a user kills that user," he said.  "People who are selling that poison here are not going into the Department of Corrections, they’re going into the Federal Bureau of Prisons for mandatory terms where there is no parole."

Retired Admiral James ‘Sandy’ Winnefeld, co-chair of S.A.F.E. Project US, who lost a son to heroin overdose last September, said heroin and opioid abuse is a complex problem that needs a complex set of solutions.  "When you have 64,000 people dying each year of overdoses, when it is the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50 in our country, when 85,000 kids per year are being put in foster homes, when a baby is born every 25 minutes addicted to heroin, and when it’s costing out nation $504 billion each year in economic impact, that’s what we call a national emergency, not just a public health crisis," Winnefeld said.

The Heroin Impact Project is the result of findings in the latest report on Heroin in Colorado, which was released Tuesday.