Fentanyl bill moves through Senate
Legislation that has set out to attempt to address the states increasing fentanyl crisis is making its way through the Colorado Senate.
Sponsored by Senator Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, and Senator John Cooke, R-Greeley, HB22-1326 represents what some call a comprehensive approach to address this crisis that includes both proven harm reduction strategies to save lives and enhanced criminal penalties targeting dealers to keep fentanyl off Colorado streets.
“We are in the third wave of the opioid epidemic and in the worst overdose crisis in the history of this country. Fentanyl is the drug of choice for the cartels because it’s potent, cheap and easy to traffic,” Pettersen said. “We need to go after the dealers who are poisoning our communities and provide training and resources to better equip law enforcement to investigate fentanyl poisonings while increasing access to desperately needed treatment and life-saving harm reduction tools. This bill is about saving lives with a comprehensive public health and public safety approach, and will complement the work we’re doing to fix our broken behavioral health system throughout Colorado.”
Three years ago House Bill 1263 passed in the state that decriminalized possession of up to four grams of fentanyl along with almost all other drugs for personal use. A measure many law enforcement agencies in the state along with Republicans say has resulted in more than 900 Coloradans dying from fentanyl overdoses last year. In 2020 that number was 540, according to the state health department.
The bill will strengthen criminal penalties once again on any individual distributing fentanyl, and integrate mandatory substance use disorder (SUD) assessments and treatment into the state’s sentencing process to ensure people can access treatment and recovery services.
The legislation also focuses on compound fentanyl, which is fentanyl mixed with other drugs or substances. The legislation provides law enforcement with additional tools to go after dealers while providing treatment options to individuals with a SUD.
Defendants in possession of any amount of fentanyl compound will be assessed for a substance use disorder and required to complete an education program developed by the Office of Behavioral Health in the Colorado Department of Human Services. Individuals assessed as having a substance use disorder will be ordered to complete a treatment program.
The legislation directs $29 million in federal pandemic relief funds to implement recommendations from the state’s Behavioral Health Transformational Task Force to expand access to proven harm reduction tools like the life-saving opioid antagonist Narcan as well as fentanyl test strips. It will also expand access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) treatment within the criminal justice system to help folks get the care they need and ultimately help reduce recidivism.
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