COLORADO SPRINGS — The fentanyl crisis has devastated communities across the state, but families hope new legislation can help prevent future tragedies.
During a press conference Thursday, state lawmakers unveiled a bill that would reduce the amount of fentanyl-laced drugs a dealer would need to possess in order to face harsh felony charges. It also aims to increase access to fentanyl strips, Narcan and services for people who suffer from addiction.
Matt Riviere lost both of his sons eight months ago after they ingested Oxycontin laced with fentanyl.
"It happened the morning of July 25th, but I didn't find out until 2 a.m. the next day. By the time they were found in their apartment complex in Colorado Springs and the coroners came in and did their investigation, they contacted us at 2 a.m. the next day," said Riviere.
He says his sons, Andrew and Stephen, were normal boys that just wanted to have fun.
"I know I'm not going to bring my boys back and I understand that. I love my kids, and we had a great relationship but they made a dumb choice. They would be the first to say that was really dumb dad," said Riviere. "I know when I was a young man, I made some really dumb decisions too. I was fortunate, it didn't cost me my life but it could've been me."
Riviere is now supporting efforts at the statehouse to crackdown on the synthetic opioid.
"The group Blue Rising reached out to me and said they were putting together some legislation for the state of Colorado. They explained what they wanted to do and some of the other parents that had lost their kids to fentanyl poisoning and asked if I wanted to join. I said absolutely, anything I can do to help. Over the last few weeks, just understanding what the bill would do, what the bill would contain, and what things we wanted to see changed in the law," said Riviere.
Our sister-station Denver 7 obtained a copy of the bill draft which makes it a level 4 drug felony to possess any drug or compound that contains fentanyl and weighs more than 4 grams.
It also changes the weight a person needs to possess in order to be charged with various levels of drug felonies in Colorado:
- A person would commit a level 1 drug felony if they distribute, manufacture or sell a drug or compound containing fentanyl or carfentanil that weighs more than 50 grams.
- A person would commit a level 2 drug felony if they distribute, manufacture or sell a drug or compound containing fentanyl or carfentanil that weighs between 4 grams and 50 grams.
- A person would commit a level 3 drug felony if they distribute, manufacture or sell a drug or compound containing fentanyl or carfentanil that weighs less than 4 grams.
The bill would also make a person face a level 1 drug felony if they sell a drug or compound containing fentanyl which kills a person whom they sold to and is the proximate cause of death.
"We want to see the possession changed. When it was changed in 2019 to four grams, and fentanyl was included in that, we thought that was way too much. Four grams about a sugar packet will kill 2,000 people. We thought possession was too high and maybe lawmakers will look at that in the future," said Riviere.
While the bill is a good start, Riviere says more needs to be done to combat the crisis.
"We've got to plug the holes in the border, this stuff is coming from china, making it's way to Mexico, and making its way into the United states. That's been clearly documented, and we know where it starts and how it gets here. That's the first thing that I think we need to do, and the second is the legislation. We need stricter penalties for these drug dealers who are pushing these drugs and murdering our children. We need to go into the community and raise awareness and that's the third piece," said Riviere.
"I really think the legislature has done a really good job addressing the full continuum of concern. I know the law enforcement community was interested in those sentencing changes. For us, we see really good steps forward with the increase in availability of Narcan, making it easier for schools to access Narcan, and excited to see how treatment is delivered in jails and increasing the availability of Narcan for prisoners who are discharged," said PJ Higgins, Opioid Prevention Project Manager for Community Health Partnership .
Higgins says Narcan is the best tool available to help prevent overdose deaths.
"Having it more available and more people trained in its use is the best way to keep people alive," said Higgins. "The bill really powers up a a lot of programs that already exist. In particular,the states big Narcan fund that helps institutions purchase it."
“We are acting now to make Colorado neighborhoods and communities safer and we welcome the legislature’s action to save lives and address the dangers of fentanyl. The introduced bipartisan legislation, crafted in partnership with legislative leadership, law enforcement, district attorneys, and public health experts provides a better comprehensive solution that will save lives and improve public safety,” said Governor Jared Polis.
Riviere hopes other states follow Colorado's lead in combating the crisis.
"We can be the forerunners for legislation like this. We need to stem the tide, we need to stop this terrible evil from killing our children and awareness to me is the greatest thing that we can do," said Riviere .