Elephant tranquilizer possibly mixed into illegal drugs in northern Colorado

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- There are hundreds of stories similar to Trenton Graves' across Colorado. He was a son, a brother, a husband and only 22 years old when he died of an overdose in Northern Colorado last month.

While investigating his death, an unusual warning is coming from the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force. The coalition of law enforcement in the area believes there's a possibility carfentanil is being mixed with illicit drugs and being sold in the area.

Carfentanil is an opioid that is 100 times stronger than fentanyl, 5,000 times stronger than heroin, and 10,000 times stronger than morphine, according to the task force.

"It hasn't been in the western United States like it has been back east," said Colorado Bureau of Investigation Lab Director for Grand Junction Lance Allen. Allen says carfentanil has been popping up over the past two or three years in the state, including one case that's connected to two overdose deaths last year in Eagle County.

Allen says the substance can be breathed in, so they handle it in the lab with extreme caution. He says they always carry nalaxone, an overdose reversal drug, in case someone comes in contact.

"Because it is so potent, we stress the importance of being aware and prepared just in case that exposure does happen," Allen said.

The Denver Zoo carries carfentanil in case they need to tranquilize their biggest animals, like a 12,000 pound elephant. Zoo officials say they need a special Drug Enforcement Agency permit just to carry the drug, and have a qualified vet handle the substance with protective gear.

As for the CBI, they're seeing the drug come into the state in different forms.

"We’ve seen it in powder form, we’ve seen it in powder inside of a capsule, we’ve seen it in pill form," Allen said. "So it can be in any form and it usually is in a very small dose in that form but it’s enough to have deadly effects."

At this time, the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force is still trying to figure out how, and in what form, the carfetanil is coming into the state.

Anyone with information can call the tip line at 970-416-2560.

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