Fentanyl is not “new” to Colorado, nor is the devastating impact it has on the user, their family, and their community. What is new, however, is Colorado demonstrating the fastest rate of fentanyl deaths besides Alaska over the last six years (2015 -2021)—a statistic that also includes Eagle County and the surrounding communities.
What is fentanyl?
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain medication. Originally used in cancer pain treatments, fentanyl carries a potency 100 times greater than morphine and ten times more than heroin. It is highly addictive and creates a profound euphoria when abused. Inhaled, snorted, ingested, or injected, fentanyl takes immediate hold and can render a person unconscious and/or stop their breathing within seconds.
Fentanyl’s Deadly Impact
The Colorado Department of Health and the Environment said fentanyl accounts for the majority of drug overdose deaths over the last five years.
- 2017, 22% involved with fentanyl
- 2019, 51% involved with fentanyl
- 2020, 68% involved with fentanyl
In 2020 alone, 540 out of the 582 drug overdose deaths were related to fentanyl. Unfortunately, statistics like these don’t even begin to include the serious harm caused by addiction and its many related problems.
Why is fentanyl such a problem now?
According to Maggie Seldeen, founder of High Rockies Harm Reduction, fentanyl can be manufactured to look like any other white substance, whether that is cocaine or ecstasy, or whatever drug. Fentanyl is frequently used in the production of counterfeit oxycodone pills often called M30. When making these tablets the quantity of fentanyl is imprecise or often unknown and this is having lethal effects on its unsuspecting users.
Mirroring similar trends across the country, Eagle County has seen a proliferation of fentanyl because of its ease of transport, high-profit margins, and the fact that it can be manufactured almost anywhere. A 2021 study by the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs estimated one kilogram of fentanyl to hold a street value of more than one million dollars.
Eagle County Infiltrated with Fentanyl
Heidi McCollum, District Attorney for the 5th Judicial District (including Eagle and surrounding counties) reported an increase of fentanyl cases prosecuted over the last few years. McCollum believes the fentanyl is arriving from Mexico, sent to Denver, and then distributed up to Eagle and surrounding counties.
What’s being done about the problem?
From a law enforcement perspective, multiple agencies are involved including GRANITE, Gore Range Narcotics Interdiction Team. In 2020 alone, GRANITE claims to have seized more than 70 pounds just along the I-70 corridor in Eagle County.
Directly addressing the source of addiction, Maggie Seldeen and her group High Rockies Harm Reduction help lead these efforts by offering three areas of services.
- Recovery services
- Harm reduction services (focusing on fentanyl test strips and safe Narcan usage)
- Education and advocacy
Eagle Valley Behavioral Health is another important group providing psychosocial resources to the local communities as well as other Eagle County organizations like Mind Springs, Eagle Valley Rural Community Opioid Response Group, and Mountain Youth.
Unfortunately, there is no stereotypical fentanyl user and it affects people from every walk of life. Perhaps with more education, outreach, and counseling services the increased awareness and comprehensive health care/addiction services can help to put an end to this tragic epidemic. McCollum said that “our more rural mountainous area seems to be prime for a continued rise in this illegal use.” Let’s just hope that’s not the case.