Colorado Springs and El Paso County continue to see elevated incidences of fentanyl distribution and overdose deaths.
Fentanyl made headlines in Colorado when a 21-year-old University of Colorado Boulder student Madeline Globe died from ingesting what she thought to be prescription Xanax, but was actually a counterfeit pill laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is often mixed into counterfeit pills in illegal facilities due to its low cost and its ability to blend with other substances.
Since Globe’s death in 2017, Colorado has witnessed an increase in fentanyl overdose deaths, notably in the Colorado Springs area. By October of 2019, the El Paso county coroner recorded 17 fentanyl deaths, which is more than the deaths recorded in 2017 and 2018 combined, and in 2019 the Colorado Springs Police Department seized 3,100 fentanyl pills in El Paso county.
Types of Drugs Associated with Fentanyl
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain reliever that is up to 100 times stronger than other opioids, such as morphine. Prescription fentanyl is used primarily for patients experiencing debilitating pain and can be administered via lozenge, transdermal patch, or injection.
Illicit fentanyl is made in clandestine labs, usually in the form of a powder that can be snorted, liquified and injected, or compounded into familiar-looking pills, leaving the drug user unaware that the substance is even present. Fentanyl can be pressed into pills that look identical to prescription pain medication (hydrocodone, oxycodone, Percocet) or anti anxiety medication (Xanax), or it can be sold in forms resembling heroin or crystals. In some cases, marijuana laced fentanyl has also been reported. Even minuscule amounts of the drug can result in overdose, and most fentanyl overdose deaths are from this illegally made form of fentanyl.
A Black Market Problem
A major source of illicit pills circulating one the fentanyl black market that closely resemble legitimate prescription pills is Mexico, where the drug cartels have access to massive resources for creating and distributing sought-after substances. Drug traffickers are able to substitute more expensive ingredients with fentanyl, creating a potentially lethal dosage. China is also home to fentanyl factories that supply black market drug makers with the dangerous drug.
Fentanyl Deaths In El Paso County
Since 2013, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office has generated maps depicting where opioid deaths occur within the county. While these maps include overdoses from all opioids (not only fentanyl overdose deaths), they paint a picture of where drugs are circulating locally.
Since 2014, local drug busts indicate that the downtown Colorado Springs area has been an opioid hotspot, especially around the I-25 and South Nevada corridor, an area known for its homeless population. While opioid overdose deaths in this area were especially prominent during 2016, the map illustrates that opioid overdoses were recorded in nearly every part of Colorado Springs during 2016 and 2017, indicating that opioid use is reaching many socioeconomic areas.
Urban to Suburban Shift
Several events are thought to be behind the shift to drugs in the suburbs, or the suburban reach of opioids in the Colorado Springs and El Paso county area. First, an urban renewal project in the notorious South Nevada Corridor may be displacing transient drug users to other locations throughout the city.
Second, demand for opioids allows for the distribution of counterfeit lookalike prescription pills from illicit manufacturers to ripple through geographic areas reaching higher and lower socioeconomic residences alike. In the case of Colorado Springs, opioid use in 2017 can be documented not only in the lesser affluent areas of South Nevada Avenue, but also throughout eastern parts of the city (Woodmen Road and along South Academy Boulevard), with evidence of an ever increasing reach in the last few years.
Reducing Fentanyl Deaths through Substance Abuse Treatment
Opioid use in Colorado Springs and El Paso county has become a community-wide issue and given the deadliness of this potent pain reliever, the increase in fentanyl use specifically is of particular concern. Treatment for fentanyl and other drug addiction is imperative to reducing deaths and saving lives by reducing demand for pills that could be laced with fentanyl and for the drug itself.
If you or someone you know could benefit from treatment for opioid addiction or substance abuse, The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake offers personalized inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs, including medical detox. Telehealth and distance treatment have also been made available during the COVID-19 outbreak to provide recovery support to more patients.
- Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. “2019 Colorado Drug Trends Report Released.” August 18, 2019. Accessed April 23, 2020.
- Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. “A Statewide Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Intensive Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment Provided through Managed Service Organizations.” August 2018. Accessed April 18, 2020.
- Colorado Office of Behavioral Health. “Colorado Drug Trends.” August 2, 2019. Accessed April 22, 2020.
- Coloradosprings.gov. Metro Vice, Narcotics, & Intelligence Division. Accessed April 20, 2020.
- Zubeck, Pam. “Where People Die of Overdoses in El Paso County.” Colorado Springs Independent, August 16, 2017. Accessed April 23, 2020.
- Zubeck, Pam. “Overdose Maps Show Progression of the Opioid Crisis Across Colorado Springs.” August 22, 2018. Accessed April 23, 2020.