COLORADO SPRINGS — Thursday morning, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, members of law enforcement, and Colorado’s 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office came together to sound the alarm about the state’s rising number of fentanyl-related deaths.

According to state leaders, fentanyl is pouring into Colorado’s streets, homes, and schools. Although the problem is not new, its impact has reached never-before-seen levels.

“In 2021 in El Paso County, we saw 22% increase in overall drug deaths from the previous year, which was driven in large part by the rise of fentanyl,” El Paso County Coroner Leon Kelly said. “In 2017, we saw a total of five fentanyl deaths. In the last five years, we’ve seen a more than doubling of those fentanyl deaths year after year to reach our 21 total of 99 fentanyl-related accidental deaths. In addition to that, we had two fentanyl-related suicides, bringing the total fentanyl lives lost to 101.”

According to the CDC, synthetic opioids (like fentanyl) are the primary driver of overdose deaths in the United States. Comparison between 12 months-ending January 31, 2020 and the 12 months-ending January 31, 2021 during this period:

  • Overdose deaths involving opioids rose 38.1 percent.
  • Overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (primarily illicitly manufactured fentanyl) rose 55.6 percent and appear to be the primary driver of the increase in total drug overdose deaths. 

During 2021, Colorado State Patrol’s STIS team seized 151 pounds of Fentanyl powder as well as 13,842 fentanyl pills and other drug seizures.

Although many drug users and dealers may know what fentanyl is, state leaders are urging community members, especially parents, to educate themselves about its deadliness.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) defines fentanyl as “a synthetic opioid typically used to treat patients with chronic severe pain or severe pain following surgery.  Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance that is similar to morphine but about 100 times more potent.”

When used, fentanyl has the ability to cause:

  • stupor
  • changes in pupillary size
  • cold and clammy skin
  • cyanosis – blue discoloration of the skin
  • respiratory failure leading to death
  • coma

What makes fentanyl an even greater threat is its ability to pack deadliness into miniscule amounts. For example, one pencil tip amount of fentanyl could kill an fully-grown adult. A sugar packet amount could kill up to 500 people.

With the public announcement of a multi-agency collaboration, Colorado state leaders and law enforcement members are now turning to more severe consequences for fentanyl distributors, increased support and resources for drug users, and increased public awareness.

“I have never seen anything like this in 30 years,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian Besser. “This aggressive stance on poison peddlers is absolutely essential.”

Although fentanyl has been on the rise in recent years, its presence has become even more alarming as it makes its way not only onto streets, but into schools.

“I have literally stood at countless press conferences in the last five years alone on this topic. Ringing the bell, beating the pots and pans in the kitchen, trying to get people to pay attention to what’s going on. Now, people are starting to pay attention. Why? Because kids are dying. It’s in the schools.”

DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian Besser

“We cannot have a single more death, especially our children are getting it in manners that weren’t accessible to them many years ago,” said CSPD Interim Police Chief Chief Adrian Vasquez.

In Colorado Springs, a town hall is reportedly in the works that will be targeted toward parents and will include ways they can speak with their students about the risks and deadliness of fentanyl.

You can watch Thursday’s full press conference above.