SOUTHERN COLORADO — Fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid, which is similar to morphine but much more potent.
According to the El Paso County Coroner, at the end of June there were 44 fentanyl related deaths recorded by his office. At that rate, the number of fentanyl related deaths in Southern Colorado for 2021 is set to double the total from 2020, which was already a record-breaking year.
On July 25, two more lives were taken by fentanyl. Matt Riviere said his sons, Andrew and Stephen, lived together at an apartment in Colorado Springs. Andrew was 21 years old and Stephen was 19, and their father said they had always been close. "Stephen was very witty, and Andrew was goofy. But, it was always Andrew and Stephen, or Stephen and Andrew. The boys were really, really connected to one another," said Matt.
Andrew and Stephen died on July 25 in their apartment, according to Matt. "One of the boys got some pills and came home with them... They passed in their apartment, side by side, together," said Matt.
"We literally ran around the house just screaming, just horrible screams that words can't express. It was just anger, it was grief, it was shock, it was despair."
Not long after, Matt learned his sons had fentanyl in their system, which was their cause of death. Matt did not know much about fentanyl at the time. "They weren't drug addicts, doing hard drugs. We knew what they had done, and what they experimented with, and we had very open conversations," said Matt, who believes his children did not know the pills they took were laced with fentanyl.
When asked what he would say to his sons if given the chance, Matt paused. "I'd tell them I forgive them. I know they didn't purposefully do it, and they'd be brokenhearted if they knew what they did, and the pain it's caused my wife and I. I'd tell them I love them, and it was a mistake, and I understand that... I'm sad, and I miss them, and I look forward to seeing them again," said Matt.
Matt said Andrew and Stephen would want their story shared. "The more we get the exposure out there and people are aware of it, kids will think twice about ever trying something, because they don't know what they're going to get... Help me save another kid. Help me save another family from this terrible pain, and this tragedy that we're going to have to endure for years," said Matt.
Lt. Shane Mitchell is assigned to the Metro Vice, Narcotics, & Intelligence Division, which is a component of the Colorado Springs Police Department. He said the three main illicit drugs seen in Southern Colorado are methamphetamine, heroin, and fentanyl. According to Lt. Mitchell, over the past few years the emerging and concerning drug trend throughout the Front Range has been the rise of fentanyl. "Usually, it's in a counterfeit pressed pill form, which is very common. It's a light blue pill which we call an M30," said Lt. Mitchell.
The counterfeit pills are made to look like authentic oxycodone pills. "It's really a game of Russian roulette, if you're one of these people who are ingesting these pills," said Lt. Mitchell.
Across the entire state of Colorado in 2016, Lt. Mitchell said there were 37 dosage units or pills of illicit fentanyl confiscated. In 2020, that number jumped to over 55,000 dosage units or pills. "It's a little emotional for me, because we have recently had several deaths in our community due to fentanyl overdose... Most striking to me are the two brothers who recently passed away in our community from ingesting a pill like substance," said Lt. Mitchell.
Lt. Mitchell said there have been close to 18,000 illicit fentanyl pills removed from the Southern Colorado community this year. "We're out there fighting hard. We know that this is an emerging drug trend that concerns us as a community very seriously... We're going to be out there day and night, taking these pills off the street," said Lt. Mitchell.