Substance use has skyrocketed during the pandemic, especially among opioid users who often scrambled to find a fresh supply of street drugs. Opioid use, like elsewhere in the US, has been climbing steadily since the pandemic. 1,477 Coloradans died of drug overdoses in 2020, an unprecedented number and the most recorded overdose deaths in the state. That is nearly a 40% increase from 2019. Because of this, lawmakers in Colorado are trying to pass a law that anyone arrested with fentanyl in their system will instead be diverted to drug treatment.

Skyrocketing Opioid Use in Colorado

Opioid use was already climbing pre-pandemic, but once the COVID-19 pandemic began to impact, many factors were in play. Like in many parts of the country, drug overdose deaths were already rising in Colorado. COVID-19 caused a strain on resources, and many places offering treatment, including Medication-Assisted Treatment, closed.

More people, at the same time resources, stretched thin, began abusing substances. The effects of social isolation, financial insecurity, and fewer ways to get help for addiction caused a domino effect. More people needed treatment than ever, yet fewer resources remained.

New Fentanyl Laws Could Stretch Resources Thin, Again

If the new fentanyl law passes, the addiction treatment industry will again buckle. While more treatment is available in today’s climate, there are still many obstacles to getting services. Colorado just doesn’t have enough treatment beds and there are obstacles to help in rural areas. However, the judicial system could help nudge people who need drug treatment services the most. Treatment would be mandatory to stay out of jail.

The bill authors estimate that about 300 people a year in Colorado face personal fentanyl possession charges or are convicted of offenses while on fentanyl, which are the types of crimes they wish to divert. In total, it’s estimated that only about five percent of drug convictions involve fentanyl.

The addiction recovery community isn’t sure those numbers are realistic. A breakdown of crimes across the state showed that Denver County alone had about 340 fentanyl-related cases in 2021.

House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Democrat sponsoring the bill, says the purpose is to “make sure that you’re receiving the evaluation and recommendations for additional treatment if needed — because fentanyl is more addictive than any substance that we’ve ever seen before.”