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There have been more than 700 dead from Fentanyl in Colorado in just one year. But a killer just as dangerous is out there.

As the state of Colorado has focused this past year on the toll taken by fentanyl, the role of methamphetamine (meth or crystal meth) in Colorado deaths has been largely in the background. That doesn’t mean it’s any less deadly, just less reported at this point in time. There is a pattern of attention, as each new version of a drug enters a marketplace.

Attention has been focused on fentanyl because even tiny quantities can kill a person the very first time they use, and the rapidly rising death toll has alarmed elected officials. Fentanyl is a Schedule II controlled substance that is similar to morphine, but it is about 100 times more potent.

Photo by Ksenia-Yakovleva on Unsplash

Legislators agreed on a bill passed on May 26, at the last minute of this latest legislative session, but has not yet been signed:

Under the final version of the bill, a person can be subject to a felony drug charge if they possess even a dusting of the lethal synthetic opioid, whether or not they realize that what they possess is indeed fentanyl.

The last-minute debate, based on the changes made by the Senate, puts the burden on the defendant to prove they did not know they had fentanyl, instead of the burden being placed on the prosecutors to prove that they knew.  But although that might be hard to prove, the law would allow a person charged with felony possession of even a trace of fentanyl to turn that felony into a misdemeanor at trial.

In just this past year of 2021, as the state legislature struggled with crafting a bill that could curb the overdoses, at least 767 Coloradans died of fentanyl.  Just two milligrams of the substance can be fatal, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Experts say that Colorado data is likely under-reported and three months of the 2021 data is incomplete. Just as it is, this represents a 42 percent increase in deaths from fentanyl over 2020.  Law enforcement is reporting days like Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022 when five young adults, none older than 32, died of suspected fentanyl overdoses in just one house in Commerce City.

For the record, those who know say that fentanyl is cheaper to produce and it can be disguised and sold to unsuspecting customers.  Experts say those who buy it often think they are buying cocaine, heroin, or prescription painkillers. Those who know they are buying fentanyl are playing with fire, say the experts, by using a substance that is incredibly addictive, dangerous, and difficult to treat.

But fentanyl isn’t the only drug playing havoc with lifespans in Colorado. Over the past five years, deaths from meth have tripled; making it the second-deadliest drug consumed in Colorado. Both are synthetic opiate drugs: methamphetamine is also a Schedule II controlled substance in Colorado. Under CRS 18-18-403.5, possession of four grams or less of methamphetamine is a level 1 drug misdemeanor and is usually punishable by probation.

Both can be manufactured here, making them drugs of choice by drug cartels. Selling or cooking meth is always a drug felony carrying prison.

As far back as 2017, Westward reported that Colorado has the third-most-serious drug problem of any state, with the highest percentage of both teenage and adult drug users in the country.

While the recent rise in fentanyl deaths is getting the headlines, attention also needs to be paid to the impacts of repeated use of crystal meth, which can quickly lead to addiction. Effects of meth addiction can include:

  • Decreased motor skills
  • Impaired verbal learning
  • Severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Dental problems (“meth mouth”)
  • Skin sores (from scratching)
  • Increased risk of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis B and C (from unsafe sex and sharing contaminated needles)1