By Karen Morfitt
DENVER (KCNC) — Fentanyl has become a focus for Colorado lawmakers as the number of deaths involving the drug continues to climb. Last month, five people in Commerce city died after inhaling cocaine, laced with fentanyl.
In December, a teenage girl overdosed in class in Colorado Springs.
A tragic look at the destruction the drug is causing across Colorado.
“People were dying from poisoning, people ARE dying from poisoning of fentanyl, and we have to address it,” Rep. Leslie Herod said.
She is among a group of Colorado lawmakers set to introduce a bill aimed at combating the growing crisis in our communities.
In a statement, speaker Alec Garnett, who led the effort, says, ““We are taking bold, comprehensive action to get fentanyl off our streets and save lives. My heart breaks for the far too many families in Colorado who have come to know the pain of an overdose death. This proposal will crack down on the dealers peddling death in our communities and provide new tools to law enforcement to require treatment for individuals arrested for fentanyl possession who have a substance use disorder.”
“We are partnering a public safety approach with a public health approach,” Herod said.
While it has yet to be unveiled, Herod says it includes increased penalties for those distributing fentanyl and for dealers linked to an overdose death. It would also allocate millions of dollars to treatment and prevention programs and increase access to resources like fentanyl test strips and Narcan.
“We have got to get folks that access to treatment it is proven to work,” she said.
Penalties for those in possession would stay the same despite heavy criticism surrounding a 2019 change to Colorado law that lowered possession of four grams of fentanyl from a felony to a misdemeanor.
It’s a move some law enforcement officials and prosecutors have blamed for the rise in fentanyl in the community.
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen spoke with CBS4 about the issue last month as debate about how to respond to the issue heated up.
“The effort was to try to help people. The effect is people are dying,” he told CBS4 at the time.
Herod says it’s likely lawmakers on both sides will raise concerns about portions of the bill, she says that is expected and that no bill is perfect.
“This is a bipartisan effort like the 2019 bill was. It is a bipartisan effort to address the issues that are in front of us right now. We have got to do something to get our communities help,” she said.
CBS4 reached out Tom Raynes, Executive Director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council who have been critical of the changes in possession as well as for their response to the proposed bill. He says they were waiting to see the final draft before commenting. It is set to be unveiled on Thursday morning.
The governor’s office also released a statement in regard to the bill, in a statement a spokesperson says,
“This bipartisan bill led by Speaker Garnett, is backed by Republican lawmakers like Senator John Cooke who is a former sheriff, and was crafted in partnership with input from law enforcement, district attorneys and public health experts to address the dangers of fentanyl and provide real solutions to address the unique nature of this crisis. The Governor supports additional criminal penalties against fentanyl because of its deadly nature and applauds Republicans and Democrats for coming together to put criminals behind bars and save lives.”
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