Apr 25, 2022 - News

Colorado lawmakers advance fentanyl crackdown measure

A bag of pills, some of which contain fentanyl. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Colorado lawmakers are advancing a bill aimed at cracking down on the state's fentanyl crisis while treating people in the process.

What's happening: The House is slated for a final vote Monday on the controversial legislation before advancing it to the state Senate, where sponsors Sens. Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood) and John Cooke (R-Greeley) will attempt to take it to the finish line.

Why it matters: Fentanyl deaths are soaring in Colorado, outpacing most other states β€” and many overdoses are occurring as users unknowingly ingest the synthetic opioid laced with other drugs.

What's new: A GOP-sponsored, zero-tolerance amendment that would make any possession of fentanyl a felony failed on Friday with an unanimous down vote from House Democrats.

  • The current draft bill now makes it a felony to possess more than 1 gram of fentanyl in any form, while tightening criminal penalties for distributing the drug.
  • The latest version also allocates millions of dollars for overdose-reversing pharmaceuticals, overdose education campaigns and fentanyl test strips, and it integrates addiction treatment into the state's sentencing process.

Yes, but: Addiction service providers are concerned they may not be able to meet the 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, director of the Denver Health clinic, told CPR.

The intrigue: Some of Colorado's top Democratic leaders β€” including Gov. Jared Polis, House Speaker and bill sponsor Alec Garnett and Denver Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod β€” continue to clash over how to handle the fentanyl crisis.

  • Polis told CPR that any amount of fentanyl should be a felony, while Herod has criticized that stance for too harshly penalizing people with substance abuse issues.

The big picture: This year's bipartisan fentanyl bill represents one of the most fiercely debated topics of the 2022 legislative session.


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