GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KFQX) — The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data shows the number of fentanyl-related deaths in our state nearly doubled in 2021, “We can’t sit back and take any chances that people aren’t aware,” Janet Rowland, Mesa County Commissioner says.
Mesa County first tackled meth when it exploded on the scene in 2004, now the county and district are teaming up to take on fentanyl with a prevention and awareness task force, “and the message is so different,” Dan Rubinstein, 21st Judicial District Attorney.
With fentanyl addiction isn’t the concern, “It’s literally one pill could kill you,” Rubinstein says.
Local fentanyl awareness advocate Andrea Thomas, first sounded the alarm in 2018, “The Voices for Awareness group that she has created is doing excellent work,” Rubinstein said.
Thomas took on the fight after fentanyl killed her 32-year-old daughter, Ashley Romero who unknowingly took a pain pill laced with fentanyl, “I think it’s critical that we have a community-wide approach to this because this is such an important and devastating issue truly,” Rowland says.
Voices for Awareness is spearheading the multi-agency campaign, “We all have our little piece we can contribute,” Rubinstein says.
Community Hospital is donating gift cards to people who participate in a focus group, so the campaign identifies which age group is most affected and what messages they’re receptive to. Mesa County Commissioners, Mesa County Sheriff’s Office, the drug task force, the Grand Junction Police, and health departments, are all in this together.
Dealers transport powder fentanyl almost exclusively along I-70, “But we are seeing a lot of local pills that have fentanyl in them and that’s what’s being distributed on the streets of Mesa County,” Rubinstein.
The Colorado District Attorney council plans to pass new laws, “We want to create a new crime that is distribution resulting in death,” Rubinstein says.
Carrying a minimum mandatory sentence of 12 to 32 years, “If you are selling laced drugs that have fentanyl in them and kill somebody, we are going to hold you accountable,” Rubinstein says.
Dealers prosecuted now can’t be charged under the new law, “But I know people like Andrea Thomas who lost a loved one, are very invested in trying to make sure that this doesn’t happen again,” Rubinstein says.
Mesa County’s fentanyl prevention and awareness campaign is changing the terminology, these aren’t fentanyl overdoses, they’re fentanyl poisonings where just one tainted pill can kill.
A statewide fentanyl campaign will launch this year, but Mesa County officials say their message can’t wait.