COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Coroners across Colorado saw this coming. A fentanyl epidemic in the state isn't a surprise given what happened in other parts of the country several years ago.
"We have seen it on the East Coast, Midwest," said Dr. Leon Kelly, the coroner in El Paso County.
What is alarming to Kelly is the number of kids dying after taking this potent drug. This year, his office has already recorded two teen deaths that appear to be fentanyl-related. For comparison, El Paso County saw five fentanyl overdoses involving juveniles in all of 2021. Of the five, the youngest was 1 year old.
"That, I think, is one of the most startling trends of this," he said. "We aren’t just seeing your typical substance abuse demographics that we, unfortunately, deal with year after year after year."
According to Kelly, most fentanyl overdose deaths involving juveniles are linked to pills that look like oxycodone.
"Several years ago, the illicit manufacturers of fentanyl realized they can traffic it better if it were in a tablet form," he said. "Fentanyl is so pervasive and it is in nearly every type of illicit drug. You have to assume that whatever you are taking, if you bought it off the street, there is a very high likelihood it has got fentanyl in it."
In January, investigators said, a 16-year-old boy in Colorado Springs likely overdosed and died on fentanyl after taking possibly two of these pills.
According to federal court documents, the teen's mother introduced him and his friends to the suppliers. According to court records, the two suppliers are accused of selling four fentanyl pills in a plastic baggie to the 16-year-old and his two friends for about $40.
Police believe the three boys used one of the fentanyl pills together before the 16-year-old went back home. Court documents say an investigator believes the teen likely used another pill later that evening, which caused his overdose and death.
Colorado Springs police found a small plastic baggie containing two blue pills in his room, according to records. Police believe the analysis on the pills will show a presence of fentanyl.
The teen's mom is facing charges at the state level, and the suppliers were arrested on federal drug charges.
Because this is an active investigation, Kelly can't comment on it.
"Last year in 2021 we lost more kids to fentanyl than we did to suicide," he said. "We know the efforts that have gone into youth mental health and preventing that, and yet another very difficult crisis ahead of us."
On Thursday, Denver's health department issued a warning about fentanyl. According to Denver Department of Public Health & Environment, deaths involving the drug increased by 40% in the city from 2020 to 2021. Last year, DDPHE said, fentanyl was present in almost half of all accidental overdose deaths.
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