Sep 23, 2022 - News

Denver District Attorney Beth McCann wages new fight against fentanyl

Illustration of an hourglass full of pills that have almost run out.
Illustration: Victoria Ellis/Axios

Denver's district attorney plans to take "aggressive" action to fight fentanyl dealers as the epidemic of overdose fatalities tied to the synthetic substance worsens statewide.

Why it matters: In Colorado and across the country, the deadly drug is increasingly putting youths at risk, particularly as they return to school — where they may encounter the opioid laced with other substances, Axios Vitals' Tina Reed writes.

State of play: Denver DA Beth McCann, a Democrat, is asking for $300,500 out of the city's budget next year to add four positions — two investigators and two attorneys — to assist with what she calls a record number of fentanyl-involved cases.

  • With extra hands — and new teeth from the fentanyl legislation state lawmakers passed earlier this year — McCann is aiming to ramp up "aggressive prosecution" for anyone caught dealing the drug in the city, she tells Axios Denver.
  • She'll also increasingly look to grand juries due to their subpoena powers, she says, which can force suspected criminals into court and unlock new evidence, including cell phone data.

Yes, but: McCann supported parts of the highly controversial fentanyl bill that lowers Level 4 drug felonies to misdemeanors if those convicted of possessing between 1 gram and 4 grams of fentanyl go through treatment.

By the numbers: McCann's office saw case filings involving fentanyl soar by nearly 300% between 2019 and 2021, totaling 340 cases filed.

  • In that same period, deaths in Denver involving fentanyl skyrocketed to 312% with 239 fatalities in 2021, city data shows.

What they're saying: Local health officials say fentanyl is often found in counterfeit pills disguised as ADHD or pain medicine, as well as in heroin and powders.

  • Unlike some parts of the country, Colorado has not verified any incident of fentanyl laced in cannabis products, Denver health department spokesperson Emily Williams tells Axios.

Threat level: Multiple Colorado teenagers have died this year from fentanyl overdoses. Last month, a 13-year-old died from an accidental fentanyl overdose during his first week in eighth grade at Aurora Hills Middle School.

  • Earlier this month, federal officials issued a warning about a new "rainbow" fentanyl pill that could be used to lure teens. The drug has been seized in more than a dozen states.

What's next: Denver City Council members kick off budget hearings today to review funding requests from the 781-page document, including McCann's request for more staff.

  • All proposed changes are due back to the mayor by Oct. 11, and council members must approve the budget by Nov. 7.
avatar

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

Denverpostcard

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