Colorado’s Battle With Deadly Fentanyl

Fentanyl deaths are soaring in Colorado and many overdoses are occurring as users unknowingly ingest other drugs (such as heroin) laced with the powerful synthetic opioid.

In April, for example, Shanna Lewis reported on Colorado Public Radio (CPR) that deaths involving fentanyl have been doubling annually over the last five years in El Paso County: “A one-year-old was among five children killed by fentanyl in El Paso County last year, according to data just released by the coroner’s office. Fentanyl-related deaths totaled 101 in 2021, more than double the previous year, a trend seen every year since five deaths were caused by the drug in 2017.”

State lawmakers are trying to halt and reverse that trend. The Colorado House recently advanced a bipartisan bill aimed at cracking down on the fentanyl crisis. HB22-1326 has now moved to the state Senate where sponsors Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) and John Cooke (R-Greeley) are trying to take it across the finish line. 

“The state bill is focused on fentanyl, the deadly and addictive synthetic opioid,” reported Andrew Kenney for CPR News. “The legislation would require anyone convicted of fentanyl-related charges to be assessed and potentially ordered into treatment for addiction.” That could be an outpatient clinic or a more intensive residential facility.

Critics maintain the bill relies too heavily on criminalization and tougher penalties. “It’s a highly controversial bill,” reported Alex Burness in The Denver Post. “Harm reduction and addiction experts, doctors, and attorneys who work with people disproportionately likely to face criminal drug consequences have begged this legislature to resist further criminalization as a tool to fight fentanyl. Some in this camp find the bill well-meaning, but say it’s based on flawed assumptions about how to treat addiction and thwart drug use and sales. Many experts have testified that no matter how government leaders legislate, Colorado and the nation cannot arrest or incarcerate their way out of the fentanyl crisis, nor force healing among people who use the drug.”

Addiction service providers are concerned they may not be able to meet this sudden demand of hundreds more people pouring into the state’s treatment system. “We’re definitely going to have capacity issues. We’re going to have management issues and we’re going to kind of need to have all hands on deck,” Josh Blum, the director of the Denver Health clinic told CPR News

Repeated misuse of opioids such as heroin, oxycodone, and fentanyl frequently results in an opioid use disorder (OUD). Opioid addiction is characterized by a powerful, compulsive urge to use opioid drugs, even when not required medically. Opioids change the chemistry of the brain, leading to drug tolerance, which means that over time the dose needs to be increased to achieve the same effect. When people stop taking opioids, they can experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms such as muscle cramping, diarrhea, and anxiety. 

Fentanyl kills so many people because it is 80–100 times stronger than morphine and can easily induce respiratory depression if not dosed correctly. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for the pain management of cancer patients and is typically applied via a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful properties, fentanyl is now frequently added to heroin (which is injected) to boost its euphoric effect. Many people who believe they are purchasing heroin end up purchasing and using fentanyl as well which often results in overdose deaths. 

A severe OUD may require acute addiction treatment services, beginning with medical detoxification. Valiant Living Detox and Assessment—located just 35 minutes from Denver International Airport—is a 16-bed facility that provides comprehensive care beyond withdrawal management to launch the recovery journey. Detoxification from opioids and other addictive substances should be supervised by medical professionals. The treatment team at Valiant Living Detox and Assessment utilizes a multidisciplinary approach that includes a medical director, registered nurses, psychiatric nurse practitioners, LPNs, counselors, and addiction technicians.

If you are seeking a more comprehensive start for your treatment of addiction, contact us at 303-647-4932. We provide a safe, supportive haven in the earliest stages of recovery. Get the individualized attention you need for stabilization, assessment, and discerning the best next steps in your journey.

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