OpEd Piece on Fentanyl

Shelli Shaw is a candidate for House District 59 Representative


By Shelli Shaw Published May 7, 2022

The drug goes by many street names: snowflake, butter, dragon’s breath. Regardless of what you call it, fentanyl kills without remorse. Imagine with me the small yellow packets of artificial sweetener weighing one gram each, and I have four of them sitting in my hand. If those four small packets were filled with fentanyl, I would be holding four grams of a drug so lethal it could kill 2,000 people. This is enough to wipe out nearly every resident in Bayfield. In 2019, the Colorado House of Representatives passed a bill that reduced the penalty of possession from a felony to a misdemeanor for up to four grams of fentanyl. In a party line vote, Representative Barbara McLachlan voted for this reduction in penalty.

Since 2019, drug-related deaths and overdoses has increased. In 2021, there were 22 drug-related deaths in La Plata County. Ten of those deaths involved the drug fentanyl; one victim was only 15 years old. In an April 2022 press release from the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, DEA named seven US cities with “fentanyl-related mass-overdose events” in recent months. Two of those cities are in Colorado – one being Cortez. Last year in 2021, DEA seized more than 15,000 pounds of fentanyl in the United States, which is enough to kill every single American.

While there is no lack of awareness on the devastating effect that fentanyl has on our communities across the state, the challenge is how to best address the drug’s impact. Amidst the outcries of concerned Coloradans, the Colorado House of Representatives recently passed the follow-up bill Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention (HB 22-1326). One concerning aspect is that the bill still allows for the possession of up to one gram of fentanyl to be treated as a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor charge is not a sufficient deterrent to stop criminal and drug trafficking. While possession of four grams down to one gram is progress, it still fails to address what we do to reduce the drug’s devastating impact on the lives of our kids and our community members. (Note: one gram is an amount that can still kill over 500 Coloradans, which is more than half of those living in Ignacio.)

HB22-1326 did not do enough, and Representative Barbara McLachlan voted in favor of it. Many in law enforcement agree that Representative McLachlan’s support for the sentencing aspect of the bill was not a strong enough stance. Law Enforcement Officers know firsthand the extreme danger fentanyl poses. Officers must be constantly vigilant should they encounter even a miniscule amount of the drug for fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin or inhaled from small particles in the air. Several officers in Durango have been rushed to the hospital after coming in contact with fentanyl on the job. As I meet with and learn from law enforcement officials across our Colorado House District 59, many support La Plata County Sheriff Lieutenant Joey La Venture’s stance on fentanyl. From a recent opinion article in the Durango Herald, La Venture believes that “any amount [of fentanyl] should be a felony because it’s so deadly.”

Some may argue that criminalizing the possession of fentanyl will cost Coloradans through the court systems, the jails, and the treatment facilities. Currently, it is costing them their lives, and each one of our children and our neighbors and our friends are worth what it will take to keep them safe. Fentanyl is an enemy that kills indiscriminately and unsuspectingly; it is not something in which any amount should be treated as a misdemeanor. When you have a substance where a micro-dose can be fatal, we should be doing everything we can to keep it out of our communities and protect our children and our families.


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