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Colorado attorney general seeks more resources, stronger penalties to combat fentanyl

Colorado recorded its most overdose deaths ever in 2020 with 1,477, and the state is on pace to break that record in 2021, Attorney General Phil Weiser said.

DENVER — Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser said Colorado needs more resources and stiffer penalties to combat the rising threat of fentanyl during a news conference Tuesday.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) reports 1,477 people died in the state due to drug overdoses in 2020, mostly from opioids. That is the most overdose deaths the state has ever experienced in one year, and Wesier said the state is on pace to surpass that total in 2021.

The presence of fentanyl being marked as counterfeit prescription pills and or laced with other drugs is driving the increase, as fentanyl overdose deaths rose 50% from 2019 to 2020.

>> Watch the full press conference in the player below

Wesier said he will work with state legislators and law enforcement officials during the next legislative session in legislation to better combat fentanyl, including more resources for law enforcement.

The additional resources would be used to investigate fentanyl trafficking rings, disrupt drug supply chains through multijurisdictional task forces and educate the public in an effort to prevent accidental overdoses, according to Weiser. 

Weiser also asked state legislatures to examine existing laws surrounding drug dealing and possession laws, specifically how they relate to fentanyl.

“Dealers selling counterfeit pills with fentanyl in our communities are peddling substances that can kill," Weiser said. "The legislature should increase penalties for those that deliberately handoff fentanyl and fentanyl-laced drugs to unsuspecting users, resulting in accidental overdoses. Four grams of fentanyl is not the same as four grams of cocaine or any other illegal drug. The legislature should re-evaluate whether a felony charge is appropriate for possessing this amount of fentanyl.”

RELATED: All-time high overdose deaths in country – Colorado deaths up 34%

Colorado overdose deaths are up 34%.

"Unfortunately, overdoses have increased a lot in the past two years here in Denver and Colorado as a whole,” said Denver Department of Public Health and Environment Substance Abuse Coordinator Marion Rorke.

Experts say people turn to dealers for counterfeit pills when they can't access pills from the pharmacy. The DEA said fentanyl-laced pills are deadlier than heroin and morphine.

RELATED: DEA warns of increase in fake prescription pills containing fentanyl, meth

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a PSA in October warning Americans that there has been an increase "in the lethality and availability" of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine.

The PSA is the first in six years on the matter, and the agency said more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized so far this year nationwide -- more than the last two years combined. 

In Denver, the number of fentanyl-related deaths has risen over the last several years, according to The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner's 2020 annual report.

RELATED: 8-month investigation into Colorado organization linked to Mexican cartel detailed in indictment

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