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Family member pushes for fentanyl bill after sister dies in Commerce City

Karina Rodriguez was one of five people who died in Commerce City after police say they used cocaine laced with fentanyl.

DENVER — On Wednesday, Colorado's Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed the fentanyl bill (HB22-1326) into law. It stiffens penalties for people who deal fentanyl and who are caught possessing it. The new law also invests in substance use prevention and treatment strategies. 

Feliz Sanchez Garcia began pushing for the bill after losing her sister, Karina Rodriguez, to fentanyl in February. Rodriguez was one of five people who died in Commerce City. The district attorney believes the group used cocaine not knowing it was laced with fentanyl. 

Polis and the bill sponsors were flanked by family members on Wednesday at the Capitol steps for the bill signing. The families felt a need to be there because their son, daughter or sibling couldn't attend. 

All of them know what it is like to lose someone to fentanyl. For months, they worked to turn their grief into action. 

"Worked in love not only for those we have lost, but also those we are hoping to save," said Sanchez Garcia. 

It hasn't been long since the death of her sister. Sanchez Garcia wanted to be a voice for her sister since she can't speak for herself. She said supporting this bill was her way of trying to prevent another family from feeling her pain. 

Now under HB22-1326 people who are dealing fentanyl will face increased felony charges, and if the defendant has distributed any amount of fentanyl that leads to someone’s death, they can be charged with a level one drug felony and face the drug code’s strongest penalties.

The new law also makes it a felony to possess more than one gram of a fentanyl compound or mixture. If a defendant can successfully argue they made “a reasonable mistake of fact,” then they will be sentenced with a level one drug misdemeanor rather than a felony.

The legislation directs funding for harm reduction strategies and increases access to substance use disorder treatment in the criminal justice system. 

"Someone who is just having a random fun night shouldn't have to pay for it with their life and that is what happened with my sister and we don't want it to happen to anyone else," said Sanchez Garcia. 

Sanchez Garcia wants to be a voice for her sister, and continue educating people about the dangers of fentanyl. When her family goes to restaurants now, they ask employees how they feel about them leaving fentanyl testing strips in the bathroom. They want to get the word out that the drug is here and it can impact anybody. 

Sanchez Garcia hopes this new law will save someone else's loved one. 

"She's not able to have that voice and saying this shouldn't have happened to her. We are trying to be that voice for her now," she said. "It is exciting to be a part of such an exciting piece of legislation but at the same time the reason we have to be here is because of what happened to my sister."

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