Feb 23, 2022 - News

Fentanyl deaths soar in Colorado as lawmakers scramble to act

Annual opioid overdose deaths in Colorado
Data: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Chart: Axios Visuals

Colorado's death rate associated with fentanyl is climbing faster than just about any other state in the nation, a new analysis shows.

Driving the news: The latest figures raise concerns about the deadly drug's prevalence in the community, as evidenced by the five people who died from apparent overdoses while ingesting cocaine at a Commerce City apartment Sunday.

  • "No drug is safe. Because any drug could literally have fentanyl in it without the user knowing," 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason said, per the Denver Post.

By the numbers: Overdose deaths in Colorado from fentanyl went from five in 2000 to 540 in 2020, state figures show.

The big picture: Colorado's uptick ranked second in the country from 2019 to 2021, according to a report published this month from the nonprofit Families against Fentanyl.

  • Denver police chief Paul Pazen also is concerned it's leading to a spike in narcotic-related killings. The rate went from four in 2020 to 15 in 2021, he said at a recent briefing.

What's next: Colorado lawmakers and state Attorney General Phil Weiser are advocating for legislation to increase penalties for people who knowingly sell drugs laced with fentanyl, increasing the likelihood of accidental overdoses.

  • The bill is expected to debut in the coming days.

What you can do: Denver is now distributing free fentanyl test strips and the opiate overdose reversal drug Naloxone to residents who ask.

  • To obtain the reversal drug, which can counter reduced breathing after an overdose, residents must watch a short video on how to administer it.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Denver stories

No stories could be found


Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more