DENVER — It's been one year since prosecutors could start charging someone for distribution resulting in death after a fentanyl overdose.
More than 1,000 Coloradans have died from the drug since the law took effect, according to the state's health department, but court records show only 17 people have been charged after allegedly distributing less than four grams of fentanyl that killed someone.
District attorneys during the 2022 legislative session asked state lawmakers for a new statute so they could charge someone for distributing fentanyl that killed a person. Federal prosecutors had already been able to charge someone for distributing fentanyl resulting in death, but before the law took effect July 2022, that statute was not available to state prosecutors.
"When I worked to get this law passed, I said we needed a tool to get the dealers who were distributing this poison in our communities," Adams County District Attorney Brian Mason said.
His judicial district has filed two cases so far.
"The number doesn't surprise me," Mason said. "Does it reflect how many dealers are actually distributing fentanyl in this state? No. But it certainly reflects us using the tool to try to go after the ones we can prove they are the distributors."
Finding the proof, Mason said, is difficult. The main witness is no longer alive, and investigators have to find other ways - text messages, phone calls, video surveillance - to show who provided the deadly pill.
After someone has died from fentanyl, it has taken district attorneys one week to 10 months to file charges in these cases.
"These cases are very resource-intensive, and law enforcement is burdened across the board right now, so finding the right amount of resources to put into these cases is a challenge," Mason said.
Mason has turned down cases because he said there just wasn't enough evidence.
Earlier this month, the first person to be charged under this new law reached a plea deal. Kara Gorman died of an overdose in her apartment in Fort Collins back in September. Police found a text message she sent before she died asking for "blues" which is code for fentanyl pills.
Gorman's boyfriend found her body. Investigators found Andrea Branco through Gorman's text messages.
Prosecutors charged Branco with felony distribution resulting in death and drug possession. Court records show she pleaded guilty to the distribution charge. The second charge was dismissed.
She will be sentenced in October.
Even though it hasn't been used a lot, he believes this charge is a tool state prosecutors need.
"We have to have a disincentive for drug dealers to be distributing this poison," Mason said.
Mason would like to see some changes to the law he pushed for. Right now, he can only file charges for a death if it involves fentanyl. He'd like to see this expanded to other drugs.
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