PUEBLO — A bill introduced last month in Colorado calls for harsher punishments for people distributing fentanyl, as overdose deaths continue rising across the country.
However, people who work with drug users on a daily basis say proactive measures need to be invested in, instead of imprisoning more people.
"Millions, and millions, of hundreds of millions of dollars, are going to (be) spent to no effect. You bust a dealer, there's a new one within days or less," says Dr. Michael Nerenberg, the Co-Founder and Board President of SoCo Harm Reduction in Pueblo.
Nerenberg worked as an Emergency Room Doctor for over 20 years in Pueblo and remembers the years when hundreds of patients were coming in to get opioids prescribed to them.
Now, he uses his knowledge to help reduce drug use in southern Colorado and the stigma that comes with substance abuse.
"People make a big deal, 'Well, at some point they made a choice.' OK - You never made a bad choice?"
Nerenberg believes the state should use funds for harm reductions programs, like needle exchanges and overdose prevention centers.
Joining Nerenberg in his mindset towards proactive measures is Orlando Rodriguez, a Substance Use Therapist and recovering addict himself.
Rodriguez's immediate family members still struggle with opioid and fentanyl use.
"It's a scary thing to watch someone slowly kill themselves. I've been through it, I put other people through it so I understand it."
He believes new laws aimed at cracking down on drug dealers will not prevent overdose deaths.
"They're not considering cutting off supply just created further demand, and the demand is always going to be there, so people figure out a way around it."
In 2021, more than 850 people died in Colorado from a fentanyl overdose, almost 60% more than in 2020.
Harm Reduction Resources:
- SoCo Harm Reduction Association
- Springs Recovery Connection
- Access Point Colorado
- Crossroads Turning Points
- Harm Reduction Center
- Community Health Partnership
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