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Colorado’s top federal prosecutor says fentanyl dealers are a target

As the fentanyl crisis continues to kill more people in Colorado, U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan said his office is focused on impacting the supply through prosecution.

DENVER — While investigators try to find the drug dealer connected to the five suspected fentanyl deaths in Commerce City earlier this week, law enforcement officials, including Colorado’s U.S. Attorney, are warning people about the potent drug. 

“There is a public health crisis clearly, and we have way too many people dying from taking this terrible drug,” U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan told 9NEWS on Friday. 

Finegan authored a column in the Denver Gazette this week outlining how his office is focused on prosecuting high-level fentanyl dealers as hundreds of people in Colorado die every year of poisonings and overdoses. 

Counterfeit prescription pills laced with fentanyl are a huge problem in the state, Finegan said. 

It’s believed many of the pills that have killed some of the 803 people in Colorado last year were manufactured out of the country. 

Credit: Drug Enforcement Agency
An example of counterfeit prescription pills that contain fentanyl. People believing they are taking drugs like oxycontin may be fooled with official looking labels.These pills were seized by the DEA in Denver.

Fatal fentanyl numbers from the state’s public health department show significant spikes over the last several years, with 540 people dying in 2020 and 223 in 2019.

“Clearly, a great deal of this fentanyl is coming in from Mexico. And in Colorado, it's coming along the I-70 corridor,” Finegan said. 

Ashley Romero, 32, died in 2018 after ingesting half a pill she thought was oxycontin. It turned out it was a counterfeit pill that killed her nearly instantly, her mother Andrea Thomas told 9NEWS. 

“If you put that into perspective, with someone that's experimenting for the first time, or a first-time user, you know, it's one-and-done. There's no second chance,” Thomas said. 

Thomas founded a group called Voices for Awareness after her daughter’s death with hopes people will listen. 

“It’s really attacking people that are unsuspecting,” Thomas said. 

With law enforcement promising to crack down on fentanyl crimes, 9Wants to Know asked Finegan about the “war on drugs” and the criticism of prioritizing incarceration over treatment during the 1990s. 

Finegan said his office is focused on the dealers and not the users who need treatment. 

“We are focusing on the people who are at the root of the crime. We're trying to focus on the people who are making the drugs and distributing the drugs,” Finegan said. 

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