GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KFQX) – Traces of fentanyl have sharply increased in a growing number of states since 2013 and in 2021, 25% of counterfeit pills contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. “Fentanyl is killing first time users and is the most dangerous thing out there,” Andrea Thomas, Voices for Awareness says.

Andrea Thomas lost her daughter, Ashley Romero to a fentanyl poisoning in 2018. “The cartel is becoming more creative every day and so now they are reaching out to our children through social media,” Thomas says.

Through the Voices for Awareness Foundation, Thomas is sharing her daughters story in an effort to save lives. “Our kids can get online and find all of these pills very easy and they can be delivered to your house like ordering a pizza, its that easy,” Thomas said.

Fentanyl’s availability in the United States continues to grow, as its lethality stays the same. “Right now we are believing that about 25% of the pills out there contain lethal doses,” Dan Rubinstein, District Attorney says.

Fentanyl related deaths are skyrocketing across the country, even surpassing some death totals. “This year alone in America we have had more than double the number of Americans die than die in the Vietnam war,” District Attorney Rubinstein says.

District Attorney, Dan Rubinstein has seen the increase in fentanyl related deaths on the Western Slope, but resources to criminally charge dealers, has been limited. “In Colorado the only way to prosecute a distribution that results in death is through our manslaughter statute, which doesn’t carry any mandatory penalties,” Rubinstein says.

Which leaves a lot of fentanyl cases being prosecuted in federal court, like the dealer facing charges for Ashley Romero’s death. “Federal system is taxed fairly heavily, they don’t have a lot of resources so we are trying to increase the resources for the possible options for state and federal as well as the resources for our local law enforcement,” Rubinstein said.

On top of strengthening the penalties for fentanyl dealers, the local District Attorney’s office is preparing legislation to create a state crime for drug distribution resulting in death, but that’s not the only thing they are working on for the New Year. “One is increasing resources for law enforcement to investigate fentanyl deaths, the other thing is a campaign for prevention,” Rubinstein says, “We are trying to get the word out that one pill can kill, only one pill.”