Opinion | Guest column: Colorado needs better fentanyl legislation
Summit County Sheriff
Colorado’s fentanyl crisis represents a significant threat to the public safety and health of our communities. This deadly drug is killing at an incredibly high rate. In fact, fentanyl-related deaths in Colorado have increased by more than 1,000% from 2015 to 2021.
The General Assembly is considering HB22-1326 to help address the increased death and crime from this drug. However, the legislation does not go far enough. As I testified in the first hearing on April 12 in front of the House Judiciary Committee, the legislation must provide sustainable funding to provide harm-reduction and addiction-support services to those struggling with this drug. In addition, the bill must be amended so that possession of any amount of fentanyl is a felony. Law enforcement needs that tool to be able to arrest those dealing and using this deadly drug.
Every person who enters the Summit County Detention Facility is screened for mental health, substance use issues and traumatic brain disorder; this step opens the door for treatment. Law enforcement, specifically detention facilities, are an integral intervention for those struggling with substance abuse. A felony for simple possession, which in many cases would be pled to a misdemeanor, provides leverage necessary to disrupt addictive use.
Providing these services is critical to stemming the tide of fentanyl deaths. For example, in Summit County, our jail has a robust substance use disorder program, Strategies to Avoid Relapse and Recidivism team. We offer a vigorous substance-abuse treatment program for those who have been arrested, including medication-assisted treatment and other programs. Every outgoing inmate is given Narcan.
These are not new programs in response to the current fentanyl crisis. These practices and programs were established before the massive increase in fentanyl deaths Colorado. As a community, it was understood that tackling illicit drugs takes a group effort with a multifaceted approach.
The County Sheriffs of Colorado, Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and Colorado Fraternal Order of Police are unified in their position on this legislation and recommendations to strengthen the bill. The coalition recognizes and appreciates the work undertaken by House Speaker Alec Garnett, Representative Mike Lynch and sponsors to begin to address Colorado’s fentanyl crisis.
Unfortunately, HB1326, as currently amended, falls short of protecting our communities from the significant harm that has been increasingly inflicted upon them in recent years by failing to address the possession of fentanyl. To be effective, Colorado must reestablish firm criminal consequences for dealing and possessing deadly amounts of fentanyl. Colorado cannot afford to take small, incremental steps to address the fentanyl crisis. Our response as a community and a state needs to match the serious and deadly consequences brought on by this drug. Not taking these bold steps will only lead to more tragedy for our community and all Coloradans. We want to continue to provide our expertise and experience to work with legislators to build upon the current provisions of the bill to get the policy right to make a significant difference in our shared fight against fentanyl.
During testimony on HB1326, we heard from sheriffs, police chiefs and district attorneys. However, the testimony and pleas from families who have experienced the fentanyl crisis firsthand stood alone. Those who lost their loved ones to fentanyl clearly stated they would take the felony if their family member could be alive today. As elected officials, we have sworn to protect and serve, and with that comes listening to those suffering the most – the families.
Hopefully, legislators will listen to these pleas and ensure that HB1326 is amended so that we can get our community and others the help they need.
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