By Eric Heinz
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann is trying to spread the word about the dangers of fentanyl, a powerful opioid produced for sedation, but that taken as a recreational drug can be fatal.
“Needless to say, we’ve seen a shocking increase in the number of cases that we’re filing involving fentanyl distribution and possession,” McCann said.
In 2020, the District Attorney’s Office filed 133 cases related to fentanyl, whether for possession or distribution. That number rose to 350 in 2021 and nearly doubled to 691 in 2022. Since February, McCann said her office has filed 111 cases related to fentanyl.
McCann said the drug is potent enough on its own and is desired to be pure by those who use it. She said sometimes the drugs will be labeled incorrectly and someone who thinks they’re getting a different kind of drug could wind up taking fentanyl. “
They (the police) are not seeing as many drugs that are combined, like people talk about lacing cocaine or meth or something with fentanyl,” she said. “They’re actually just seeing pure fentanyl that’s combined with typically like Tylenol or some filler, but it’s really fentanyl. That’s the drug that’s in there.”
McCann said a Drug Enforcement Agency expert informed her office recently that four out of 10 fentanyl pills the agency has tested had potentially lethal amounts of the drug in them. “We are talking to some of the high schools about the dangers of fentanyl and consumption of fentanyl, including students and parents, to help people understand that it is everywhere in the city and very dangerous because it has such potential to be lethal,” McCann said.
Under a new state statute that allows prosecutors to charge dealers, McCann said she is encouraging the Denver Police Department to investigate overdoses as homicides.
“If we can trace the person that sold the drug to the individual that overdosed and died, we can charge now, under the new statute, distribution resulting in death,” she said, adding there’s another bill in the state Legislature that would make it easier for medical examiners to clearly determine fentanyl as the primary cause of death, whereas it’s difficult to do that now because someone might have a range of drugs in their system.
Another bill McCann said she supports is the “Overdose Prevention Center Authorization,” which would allow municipalities to “authorize the establishment of life-saving overdose prevention centers.”
That bill has already been passed by the state House. An event about fentanyl awareness will take place at 6 p.m. on April 26 at North High School, hosted by the Denver District Attorney’s Office.