(EL PASO COUNTY, Colo.) — Widefield School District 3 (WSD3) and Fountain Fort Carson District 8 (FFC8) partnered with El Paso County Public Health South to present the Dangers of Fentanyl and Substance Abuse Panel.

Officer Charles Stage of the Fountain Police Department, presented first. He made clear that his investment in the community was as much personal as it was professional.

Officer Stage FPD Fentanyl panel
Courtesy: Dangers of Fentanyl & Substance Abuse Panel

“I’ve spent my entire life in service to others. I take that responsibility extremely serious,” Officer Stage said.

Officer Stage laid out numerous and alarming statistics about substance abuse and how fentanyl has become a prominent part of those numbers. He went over the history of fentanyl as a narcotic analgesic, which is not an opioid but produces similar effects, talked about how in 2019, fentanyl was prescribed to over 1 million people and highlighted the current source of illegal fentanyl drug cartels in Mexico.

Fentanyl is 50 times more potent than heroin and 300 times more potent than morphine, according to Officer Stage. He said that fentanyl, the size of a grain of sand, or about 50 micrograms, can kill three people who have no tolerance for opiates.

Officer Stage presented statistics about fentanyl being the “leading cause of death in the United States for people between the age of 18-45.” According to Officer Stage, 52.7% of all drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involve fentanyl.

According to the 2021 annual coroners report, Officer Stage cited, “There was a 22% increase in drug-related accidental deaths over 2021, due in large part to a more than doubling of our fentanyl deaths (99 in 2021) which has been the trend since 2017.”

Officer Stage said that of the 227 drug-related accidental deaths, 71% were males. “So as males, we’ve got an issue with this. We gotta start working on this and we’ve gotta start identifying in our male population, to include our kids at our schools, right? They are at a higher risk.”

Possibly the scariest statistic for parents, educators, and others working with teens is the ease with which teens can get their hands on fentanyl. Officer Stage spoke about the newest version dubbed “rainbow fentanyl,” which is 50 times stronger than the original and can be bought for as cheap as $1.35.

“We have a new generation of fentanyl coming out, rainbow fentanyl, Skittles fentanyl, we’ve all heard of this right? It is a severe problem. It is at our doorstep. It is in Springs. It is in Pueblo. It is in Denver. It is in Fountain.”

Officer Stage went on to talk about the mixing of the pills and the vast differences between what he called clandestine labs and professional pharmaceutical labs. Aside from the health concerns, there is also the concern of how much fentanyl can be found per pill.

Officer Stage also listed common drugs that can contain fentanyl: Marijuana, Adderall, ecstasy, and oxycodone/oxycontin. He also made the audience aware of the term “lean,” which refers to mixing codeine into a drink and sipping it throughout the day.

A list of signs of fentanyl or narcotic analgesic use, both physical and psychological, was presented so that the audience would know what to look for. Those include:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety
  • Shallow breathing
  • Constipation
  • Fainting
  • Pale skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

According to Officer Stage, some signs to really be aware of are pinpoint eyes, cottonmouth, and low blood pressure. He said that severe reactions include respiratory depression which is when the muscle in the diaphragm is sedated and hallucinations.

Narcan is the recommended response to a suspected overdose. Officer Stage made clear that time is of the essence if someone stops breathing and also made sure it was understood that Narcan will not hurt someone if they are not experiencing an overdose.

“So there might only be two options in our community. Either you say, your kids, ‘I’m not doing these drugs. I’m not taking a chance. I want nothing to do with this, I am not going to be part of that 18-45-year-old statistic.’ Option two, you take that buck-35, and you go buy a pill which you think is fentanyl… what you’re actually doing is putting the down payment on your coffin.”

On Aug 17, 2022, CBP officers at the Nogales Port of Entry seized 15,000 pills of colorful fentanyl pills that officials say are meant to look like candy. (CBP)

Sergeant Chris Ganstine of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office spoke after Officer Stage and brought up two stories he wanted to share with listeners.

The first case or story was about a teen victim who had moved to Colorado to live with his aunt. He had been sent by his mother to get him away from the drug use he had already begun. He went onto Facebook and made contact with a dealer and met him at Cottonwood Creek Park where he bought fentanyl. He died that same night.

The dealer, Nathaniel Corser, recently reached a plea deal and will spend a minimum of 20 years in prison for the distribution of fentanyl resulting in death. His sentencing hearing is set for Dec. 20, 2022. “This particular case was one of the first federal prosecutions in El Paso County’s history of fentanyl-related deaths,” Sgt. Ganstine said.

In the second story, Sgt. Ganstine spoke about three teen girls who had a history of drug use and other problems. They found a dealer through Snapchat named Alexis, who met them at Citadel Mall where they purchased fentanyl with Cash App.

“I don’t know how a 15-year-old had a Cash App account but they did,” Sgt. Ganstine said.

The girls met in the bathroom at school the next day and took the drugs. One girl died in her first-period health class while sleeping.

Sgt. Ganstine went on to highlight three observations that have been made about these cases:

  • A lack of family support, and a lack of parental involvement.
  • Social media use or access.
  • In most juvenile cases, it’s not an individual, it’s a group.

“If you don’t know what your kid is doing, your kid could be doing anything. If you don’t know who your kids’ friends are, that’s a problem.”

Sgt. Chris Ganstine