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GOLDEN, Colo. (KDVR) — In 2021, more than 700 people were killed by the illegal use of fentanyl in Colorado, with overdose death rates increasing at a faster rate than the national average.

“These illegal drugs are fatal and they are responsible for the countless deaths of our neighbors and our children and communities throughout our state,” FBI Denver Division Assistant Special Agent in Charge Lenny Carollo said.

According to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, Colorado drug task forces that work with the agency have seized millions of doses of fentanyl just in the first four months of the year.

“A preliminary total of 2,084,633 dosage units have been seized, which is at least a 394% increase over this time last year, and we expect this number to dramatically rise over the course of 2022,” said Keith Weis, the program’s executive director.

Fentanyl deaths lead to jail for dealers

FBI Denver and Colorado State Patrol say their troopers and agents are prioritizing seizing the deadly drug. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado says his office got 50 incitements of fentanyl last year, more than half of what they obtained in 2020.

“Last year, our office obtained the first federal conviction in the state’s history against a drug dealer for causing an overdose death after selling fentanyl-laced pills. We now have charged 14 defendants with similar crimes,” U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan said.

Finegan said his office has the ability, under federal law, to charge and prosecute anyone who’s in possession of fentanyl or distributing. If that distribution of fentanyl results in death and his office can link that to that person’s death, Finnegan says they will move forward with charges of no less than 20 years up to life in prison.

“The only way we’re going to be successful in combat or pressing this issue is if it is truly every single one of us engaged in the fight,” CSP Chief Col. Matthew C. Packard said. “Anybody that tells you there’s one solution to this problem, they are dreaming. I think it’s collaborative law enforcement efforts. It’s harm reduction. It’s community engagement. It’s caring about your neighbor. It’s all of those things — the only way we are going to be successful about this.”

More help needed

Substance abuse experts say law enforcement is a critical tool in curbing the fentanyl crisis but say more needs to be done.

At Gallus Detox in Littleton, executive director Steve Carleton said 90% of patients are now testing positive for some amount of fentanyl.

“Lots of people that come in still think they’re buying [Oxycontin] off the street, and when we do a drug test and it turns out to be fentanyl, they’re very surprised,” he said.

Carleton said additional resources need to be sent towards curbing opioid addiction and getting people help before it’s too late. He said lessening addiction could decrease demand and decrease supply.

“The trick here is can we get these people access to care before they end up dying of overdose,” he said.