DENVER — Weeks after five people in Commerce City died due to fentanyl, three deaths at a motel in Cortez are being investigated as likely fentanyl overdoses, as well.
It's an issue impacting communities across Colorado.
What is being laced with fentanyl?
The message from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been clear: If you buy pills off the street, they're not been diverted from the pharmacy. Expect that they're being manufactured by drug cartels.
The DEA's Denver division said fentanyl is being laced into these drugs more often and not everyone is aware.
"What we've seen are two things," said David Olesky, acting special agent in charge of the DEA Denver division. "Counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl. What we are seeing more of are other illicit drugs, namely cocaine, heroin, meth, also laced with fentanyl. If you have someone addicted to cocaine, or recreational users, they are not getting the same product they used to."
The economics behind it
The reason fentanyl is being pushed through Colorado is simple. It's money.
Thursday, Denver's DEA division had bags of counterfeit pills on hand that were likely laced with fentanyl, and cocaine and heroin that will be tested, as well. It was all just seized in the Denver metro area.
The DEA said two out of every five pills could have enough fentanyl to kill a person, and those three bags alone have a retail value worth $600,000.
The DEA said fentanyl is cheaper and easier to produce. One pill costs 4 cents to manufacture, but by the time it reaches Denver, it can be sold for $10.
Olesky said that means there isn't a big price barrier to buying the pills, and there's also a big profit to be made.
Can't arrest your way out of it
The DEA said a decade ago, when some doctors were over-prescribing prescription opioids, law enforcement cracked down on the problem.
People started using heroin as an alternative for an opioid pain reliever, and it was cheaper than prescription pills. Olesky said drugs traffickers then starting putting fentanyl in heroin.
"Then realized they don't need heroin anymore to get that same high and same relief," said Olesky.
Olesky said arresting their way out of the problem will not solve it because drug traffickers have flooded Colorado with fentanyl.
He said education opportunities and reaching out to families will help, along with legislation.
There are also resources available like naloxone, as well as fentanyl testing strips.