As state law enforcement leaders meet in Golden to discuss the latest on interdiction efforts against the growing fentanyl crisis in Colorado, we're asking you about different approaches.
Sentencing - 43%
Education - 27%
Treatment Programs - 21%
Confiscation - 9%
We're following this survey throughout the day and into tomorrow. Tune in to News5 at 4 p.m. as we review the results!
Editor's note: This survey is not based on scientific, representative samples and is solely for KOAA purposes.
As more alarm bells go off in our communities and across the nation, News5 is working to bring you the latest on the fentanyl crisis.
The honest answer is there's a multi-pronged approach to the issue as law enforcement, families, treatment professionals, and those in a position of influence in our communities have a role to play.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill last week that makes it a felony for someone to possess a gram or more of a drug containing fentanyl, which also includes stiffer penalties for distribution and a host of addiction treatment and prevention services.
Polis signed HB22-1326 flanked by dozens of family members of Coloradans who died of fentanyl poisoning, organized by the group Blue Rising, which brought the families together to testify on the bill during the committee process.
More than 900 people died of fentanyl poisoning in Colorado last year, up from 81 in 2017.
The bill, one of the most controversial and consequential of this year’s legislative session even according to the bill sponsors, was passed by lawmakers in the final two hours of the legislative session – going to a conference committee to decide where the cut-off point would be for the felony possession limits.
The conference committee settled on a compromise on the bill between the versions the House and Senate passed, creating a mechanism by which a person charged with and convicted of felony possession would be able to argue in court they did not know their drugs contained fentanyl.
A jury or judge could then decide whether or not they felt that was true, and could lower the conviction to a misdemeanor. If a person completes treatment, they could also see the felony moved to a misdemeanor.
The House’s measure had included language about a person “knowingly” possessing 1-4 grams of a drug compound containing fentanyl, while the Senate stripped that language out, setting up the last-minute conference committee.
The bill also puts millions in American Rescue Plan Act dollars toward residential treatment programs becoming a condition of probation, increases fentanyl education classes, increases the number of places people can get naloxone and testing strips, requires those resources be provided to people with substance abuse disorders when they are released from jail, and requires community corrections programs to treat people with addictions.
It would also put money toward other education and prevention campaigns, as well as funding for police departments, sheriff’s offices, and prosecutors to investigate fentanyl deaths and break up cartels and dealer rings.
Terms like crisis, epidemic, and deadly were used over and over during a recent roundtable discussion about the growing issue of fentanyl in Southern Colorado. Congressman Doug Lamborn along with leaders at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office brought together lawmakers, law enforcement, and health care leaders, in an effort to collaborate on solutions to the rapidly expanding problem.
“ In my case it’s legislation,” said Lamborn, “Whether it’s education, whether it’s treatment.”
The group discussed tougher laws, concerns for the safety of first responders, and most of all they want the public better informed about the threat to everyone.
“It’s probably the most dangerous drug that’s ever hit our communities,” said El Paso County District Attorney, Michael Allen, “Small amounts can kill people.”
Whether a large or small community law enforcement leaders are commonly encountering Fentanyl. Fountain Police Chief, Christopher Heberer expressed concern that youth do not grasp the danger posed by fentanyl.
“They’re still doing pill parties,” said Heberer, “We had one three months ago that we got tipped off to in the city of Fountain and I thank God every day that we were able to get there before because that could’ve put us on the national news with ten kids dead.”
The number of people dying from fentanyl or a synthetic version of it is on the rise. “Five years ago, 2017, five total fentanyl deaths,” said El Paso County Coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, ”Last year we had 99 fentanyl overdose deaths, then we had two fentanyl associated suicides, so we are now over 100.”
Law enforcement sees fentanyl as a much greater threat than any other drug they face. They say it is more easily trafficked because of the way it is disguised or hidden in pills. It means someone may not know what they taking. It is also cheap with some pills selling for a couple of bucks. That is scary because junior high and high school age kids have that kind of money.
“Part of us combating fentanyl is awareness,” said El Paso County Undersheriff, Joe Roybal, “We cannot do this alone. We’re reaching out to families to educate their children, educate their loved ones.” A message expressed multiple times is that every single person in the community needs to know the threat that is happening.
As fentanyl deaths continue to skyrocket nationwide, teens and young adults are providing a glimpse into the devastating impact of distribution.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fentanyl overdoses have become the leading cause of death among young people. It is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.
"I got these six dots to resemble the six friends that I lost in 2022," said Arthur Gallegos, Mitchell High School Student.
At only 16-years-old, Gallegos has experienced more tragedy than most. He's lost six friends just this year, three to fentanyl overdoses.
"The reason I got the tattoo was to motivate myself to get through life without turning to drugs like some of them did. It is also a reminder that I can be one of these dots as well," said Gallegos.
Gallegos also lost a classmate at his high school after the student ingested a pill laced with fentanyl. She was found unresponsive in her classroom and later died at the hospital. The third fentanyl-related death in Colorado Springs School District 11.
"I was in class when I heard about it, I heard there was an incident going on in the GRTC building," said Gallegos. "I feel so strongly about the death of that student, and I give all of the condolences to her family."
Losing loved ones to the drug, Gallegos wanted to do something about it. He started asking questions about the availability of narcan and mental health resources in his school.
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