If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, reach out to Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.

DENVER (KDVR) — May 9 is National Fentanyl Awareness Day, so Denver agencies are taking the opportunity to get the word out about the potentially deadly drug. 

Dr. Sterling McLaren, Denver’s chief medical officer, said fentanyl overdose deaths continue to rise in the city. She said fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, is most commonly seen in the form of a blue pill or white powder form.

“It is an increasing problem in Denver. It’s been increasing for a while,” McLaren said. “People are turning to fentanyl for a variety of reasons. I think it might be easier to get, maybe cheaper and it’s just the supply that’s out there right now.”

Recent data from the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner show overall overdose deaths are down in Denver, but the percentage of overdose deaths involving fentanyl has increased. 

“There’s no safe dose. People are getting more fentanyl than they know or they don’t know they’re getting because these pills are not made in a pharmacy, they’re not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and they’re coming to us from clandestine labs,” McLaren said. 

Fentanyl overdose cases ‘hard to prove’

Colorado had the eighth-highest national increase in fentanyl deaths from 2015 to 2021. 

In 2022, McLaren said there were 453 fatal drug overdose deaths in Denver. Of those, 244 cases, involved fentanyl which is more than 50%.  

Lt. Aaron Rebeterano works with the newly formed Fentanyl Investigations Team with the Denver Police Department.  

“Since we’ve set up the team, we’ve investigated numerous deaths that are related to fentanyl. The process is very slow and they’re hard to prove, but the promise to the community from the Denver Police Department and Chief (Ron) Thomas is that we are going to look at every one of these, which we have,” Rebeterano said.  

To date, the department’s Narcotics Team has seized 300,866 fentanyl pills and 453 grams of fentanyl powder. 

“It’s everywhere. I don’t think any jurisdiction is untouched by this,” Rebeterano said. “Anything we can do to stop this from coming into the city and county of Denver or being dealt here is significant in slowing the spread and potential overdose deaths.”

Users urged to stay away from street drugs

The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment does offer harm reduction supplies, including Narcan and fentanyl test strips, for free. More information can be found here

Denver agencies are reminding people to stay away from drugs not purchased in a pharmacy setting and continue the conversation.

“The more we talk about it and the more it’s out in the open and OK to talk about it, then I think people feel safer to seek help and talk about it and get out there and get the resources they need,” Dr. McLaren said.