Sharp increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in El Paso County, Colorado
According to notice posted by the Colorado Springs Police Department on December 9, the rate of fentanyl overdose deaths in El Paso County, in which Colorado Springs is the county seat, has increased dramatically over the past three years.
In 2017, the El Paso County Coroner’s Office documented five overdose deaths related directly to Fentanyl. In 2018, that number rose to nine. The El Paso County Coroner’s Office has documented seventeen overdose deaths related directly to Fentanyl between January 1, 2019, and October 31, 2019.
The westward expansion in fentanyl overdose cases
Until three years ago, fentanyl-related overdoses in the United States were densely concentrated in the northeastern states.
The Colorado Springs-based Gazette cites a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showing that growth in fentanyl overdose rates began in 2017 in the U.S. Northeast and Midwest. The synthetic opioid was the most frequently cited cause of overdoses in all five regions east of the Mississippi River, as well as the region including Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska.
At that time, methamphetamine was the most frequently cited cause of overdose in the West. Only 185 fentanyl-related overdoses — out of the 25,520 nationwide — were recorded in the region encompassing Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, according to the CDC study.
Colorado Springs is near an Interstate highway junction
Lieutenant Shane Mitchell of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, who oversees Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence in the region, explains that Colorado Springs lies on the intersection of two major drug corridors, creating easy access to drugs shipped across the country.
The basic ingredients for the synthetic opioid are typically manufactured in Chinese labs, then shipped to drug trafficking organizations based in Mexico. There, the ingredients, or precursors, are assembled into final form. Drug distributors associated with Mexican cartels smuggle fentanyl across the U.S. border and continue north along Interstate 25 through Colorado Springs before reaching Denver. The Police Lieutenant adds that drugs are often transported from the east along Interstate 70, which also passes through Denver.
Lieutenant Shane Mitchell points out that Colorado Springs is home to five military institutions. Some service members return from overseas deployments with injuries and mental health issues, adding to substance abuse problems in Colorado Springs.