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Bill that would penalize sellers after drug overdose death fails

SB23-109 would have allowed prosecutors to charge someone with a felony if they distributed a controlled substance and it killed someone.

DENVER — Prosecutors in Colorado can charge someone with a felony for giving out fentanyl that kills someone. With Senate Bill 23-109 lawmakers tried to expand that penalty to other drugs, but this week the bill failed.

SB23-109 would have made it a felony if a person sold or distributed any quantity for a controlled substance and that act resulted in the death of person who took the drug. 

Lawmakers agree too many people are dying of drug overdoses, but ideas to save lives were met with division. 

"You are not solving anybody's problems by sending that person to prison for decades," said Vincent Atchity, who is the president of Mental Health Colorado. 

Atchity's group was one of many concerned about SB23-109.

"To make that a felony, to heighten the stakes, does not prevent people from dying and its not solving our overall drug supply problem," he said. 

Concerns like this were enough to kill the proposal. It didn't stop a similar bill from passing in 2022 which charged someone after a deadly fentanyl overdose. 

"What these bills were doing was missing the mark in terms of not going after the dealers you imagine," said Atchity. "We have not seen any upside for he health of our community by going after the folks who are already not thriving."

Those who support stiffer penalties want there to be a consequence for peddling drugs. They think measures like this could be a deterrent. 

Atchity is concerned those ideas are going after the wrong people. 

"What we need to focus on is saving lives and not sending lives down the tubes when they are already incurring tragedy," he said. 

Democrats and Republicans sponsored SB23-109. The fentanyl law that passed in 2022 could put someone behind bars for up to 32 years.


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