Law enforcement and business leaders discuss fentanyl crisis in Colorado

The Rising Toll of Fentanyl in Colorado
Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 5:45 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -Law enforcement and business leaders in Colorado came together to discuss the rising toll of fentanyl and its impacts on communities across the state.

Statewide, fentanyl related deaths have risen of the last few years at an alarming rate. This according to data from the Common Sense Institute which says 540 people died statewide from fentanyl use from 2019 to 2020, an increase of 143 percent. But when it came to 2021, that number jumped to more than 800 people, an increase of 260 percent.

“I think we really need to treat fentanyl differently,” said Mitch Morrissey, former Denver District Attorney. “Fentanyl is a deadly and dangerous substance and it needs to be treated as such.”

Fentanyl and other opioid related deaths, are something that law enforcement officials say they’re all too familiar with.

“The members of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police see first hand the impact of crime and increased use of fentanyl throughout the state of Colorado,” said Basalt Chief Greg Knott. He believes that possessing any amount of fentanyl should be a felony charge.

In 2019, the Colorado Legislature passed House Bill 19-1263, which made the possession of 4 grams or less of most drugs, including fentanyl, a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

Tuesday, April 12, House Bill 22-1326 will be introduced. The bill says that any amount of fentanyl in a compound weighing more than four grams would be treated as a drug felony. But anything less than four grams would still be considered a misdemeanor. But for those participating in the discussion, that’s something they would like to change.

“The way this law is currently set up, is you can have those four grams or less of fentanyl,” said George Brauchler, District Attorney for the 18th Judicial District. “You could kill the 2,000 people with four grams and you’ll still remain probation eligible under the statute. That is crack smoke crazy.”

Those on the panel also discussed the economic impacts of the fentanyl crisis. According to the Common Sense Institute, the cost of crime and opioid overdoses in Colorado costs taxpayers billions. Of the more 1,100 opioid deaths in 2021, 73 percent were attributable to fentanyl use at a cost of $11.1 billion. Up from $1.3 billion in 2017.

With the possibility of making possessing any amount of fentanyl a felony, the hope is to get people the treatment and rehab they need. Brauchler said making it a felony would help people on that path.

“It’s not that making it a felony is an effort to try and felonize addicts, or an attempt to just lock them up and throw away the key. It’s really the gatekeeper to us introducing them into monitored sobriety mandated participation in treatment and rehabilitation and recovery.”

House Bill 22-1326 is also geared toward increasing potential sentences for distributing, manufacturing or selling fentanyl. If the bill passes, the Department of Public Health and Environment would be required to create a statewide fentanyl prevention and public education campaign.

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