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EDITORIAL: Fentanyl’s toll on Colorado — in lives, and dollars, too

Gazette - 6/21/2024

Fentanyl continues to hit Colorado where it hurts — foremost, in the devastating loss of human lives, many of them young, amid an overdose epidemic dominated by the deadly drug.

A new report released this week details the synthetic opioid’s other crushing cost to our state — in dollars and cents.

The report, from Colorado’s Common Sense Institute, pegs the total cost of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Colorado at an estimated $16 billion in 2023. That cost to all society accounts for, among other factors, the productivity lost to our economy with each loss of life.

It’s over 10 times the cost of fentanyl overdose deaths in 2017, or $1.3 billion — underscoring the dramatic rise in the drug’s use and availability.

For perspective, the report notes, the lost $16 billion amounts to fully 3% of our state’s entire economy.

The report, authored by institute economist Steven Byers and former Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who now is a fellow with the institute, also details some of the latest numbers on the surging inflow of fentanyl into Colorado:

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration seized a record 425.6 kilograms of fentanyl in 2023, which the report observes is enough to kill every Coloradan 36 times.

The number of reported narcotic seizures by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has increased over 104%, from 3,367 in 2008 to 7,434 in 2023.

The quantity of all narcotics seized in the state has increased 5,144% from 2008 to 2023.

Meanwhile, the report found, there were over 1,200 drug overdose deaths from fentanyl last year, 59% of which resulted from illegally manufactured fentanyl. That’s about three deaths per day on average — more than the number of people killed in homicides in Colorado in 2021, 2022 and 2023 combined.

As we noted here recently, Colorado once again has acquired a dubious national distinction when it comes to drug abuse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths dropped nationally from 2022 to 2023 — but rose 3.9% in Colorado. Our state ranked 10th with the highest rate of increase.

We’ve also pointed out before that a lot of the blame lies with our state’s lawmakers, who went soft on deadly drugs several years ago. In 2019, they decriminalized possession of fentanyl along with a host of other hard drugs, making it a misdemeanor.

As fentanyl deaths inevitably shot up in the wake of that preposterous policy shift, lawmakers relented a bit under public pressure and made possession of a gram or more a felony again. Meaning it still was only a misdemeanor to carry enough fentanyl to kill 500 people.

Beholden to the “justice reform” and “harm reduction” movements, our Legislature’s Democratic majority swatted down an attempt just last March to plug that lethal loophole.

They killed a Republican proposal that would have made possession of any amount of fentanyl or similar opioids a Level 4 drug felony, as it was before 2019.

As the law now stands, carrying half or three quarters of a gram of fentanyl continues to give cover to a dealer prowling the streets. He can claim to cops who bust him that those little blue pills are for his use. Which is a simple misdemeanor — a slap on the wrist. He intended to sell them, of course — exposing possibly hundreds of people to the potential for fatal overdoses.

We’ll say it again: Carrying any amount of Colorado’s deadliest drug should be a felony. We renew our call on lawmakers to see to it.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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