Mar 24, 2022 - News

Colorado looks to crackdown on deadly fentanyl and treat addiction

Fentanyl citrate in the secure area of a local hospital. Photo: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Colorado lawmakers are attempting to walk a fine line when it comes to fentanyl.

What's happening: A much-anticipated bipartisan bill draft that debuted Wednesday would impose tougher penalties on people who distribute the deadly drug and require addiction treatment for those who use the substance.

  • "It's a tough issue. People are dying from fentanyl overdoses," state Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) told the Colorado Sun. But "incarceration is not going to get us out of this."

Why it matters: The death rate for fentanyl in Colorado is spiking — faster than most other states — and many users are overdosing when they unknowingly ingest the synthetic opioid with other drugs.

  • Preliminary state data shows fentanyl deaths increased more than 40% in 2021.

The intrigue: A 2019 law that made possessing less than 4 grams a misdemeanor remains unchanged.

  • Republicans opposed to the law say it exacerbated the drug's proliferation, and they are making it a top political issue in the 2022 elections.

The other side: A coalition of 60 organizations, including those working to overhaul the criminal justice system, recently urged lawmakers in a letter to not go too far, saying "we do not believe people with an addiction should be made felons for simple drug possession."

What to know: The measure would make distribution of fentanyl that leads to a death a class 1 felony. Likewise, it increases penalties for those convicted of selling the drug.

Yes, but: It also would require people arrested for possession undergo drug treatment evaluations and expand medication-assisted treatment in county jails

  • $20 million would get set aside to expand access to Naloxone, the opioid-reversal drug, and more money would go toward an overdose education campaign and distribution of fentanyl test strips.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard. Subscribe here.


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