(CBS4) – Legislation to address Colorado’s fentanyl crisis could be at risk.
CBS4 has learned the bill will be amended ahead of a hearing Tuesday at the Colorado State Capitol. It comes as fentanyl-related deaths in Colorado soar. Preliminary data from last year shows a 66% increase.
House Speaker Alec Garnett isn’t pulling any punches. He says some lawmakers are putting election-year politics ahead of saving lives.
Alex Young is among more than 800 people who died from fentanyl in the past year.
Andy and Bridget Young say their son is larger than life.
“His smile was big, his hugs were big and his way of life was big. He overdid everything,” Bridget said.
And they did everything good parents do.
“We literally held hands and prayed over dinner every night,” she said.
Then came the night last September when the 24-year-old took what he thought was Xanax, fell asleep and never woke up.
The pill was laced with fentanyl. His death was ruled an overdose. His parents say it was poisoning.
“He was murdered,” Andy said.
“It’s poison that got into our house and no one had any idea it was there,” Bridget said.
It’s everywhere now, on every street, drugs ranging from weed to pills, sold as Oxy and Adderall. And it kills thousands of Coloradans.
“We have to do something. Doing nothing is not the answer,” Andy said.
Speaker of the House Alec Garnett agrees. He has spent hundreds of hours on a bill that would make the distribution of even small amounts of fentanyl a crime and make compulsory incarceration for those who sell fentanyl causing death, whether they knew it was fentanyl or not.
However, some lawmakers say they will resist it unless the bill includes felony charges for anyone caught with any amount of fentanyl.
According to the bill, less than 4 grams is an administrative offence.
“I’m frustrated that people across the state just think that shutting down ownership of fentanyl will somehow solve this problem,” says Garnett.
Still, he agrees the bill doesn’t go far enough.
“I think 4 grams of fentanyl is too much fentanyl. We are not talking about personal use.”
Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubenstein supports the bill, but would also support an amendment that would allow him to charge anyone with a felony for having even 1 gram of fentanyl.
“Because the crime is an incentive for treatment. I don’t want people convicted of the crime. I don’t want people to go to jail for the crime. I don’t want people who are addicts to get into those situations. I want the underlying problem to be addressed,” he said.
It’s leverage. But he says the most important thing in the bill is the penalties for traders.
“People are dying on our streets literally every day because of this drug and we need to act now and get this legislation passed as soon as possible.”
Garnett admits the bill is in trouble. If he changes it, he could lose the support of those who say no one should be charged with possession alone.
“My job is to make sure the bill isn’t dead and I’m committed to working around the clock to make sure that doesn’t happen. But I’m nervous that people are choosing politics over saving lives,” he said.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty is investigating Alex Young’s death, but if the law doesn’t pass, he can only charge the killer with reckless manslaughter, which could result in parole.
“It’s just so unfortunate that we know there will be other parents tomorrow morning who will wake up with the same nightmare. It’s crazy that we’re letting this happen,” Andy said.
The Youngs say they’re sharing Alex’s story to warn other parents. Many people say they haven’t even heard of fentanyl.
The bill calls for a nationwide awareness campaign and earmarks millions of dollars for treatment and criminal investigations.
It will receive its first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.