(CBS4) – Legislation aimed at addressing the fentanyl crisis in Colorado may be in jeopardy.
CBS4 has learned the bill will be amended ahead of a hearing Tuesday at the Colorado State Capitol. It comes as the number of fentanyl deaths in Colorado climbs. Preliminary data from last year shows a 66% increase.
Speaker of the House Alec Garnett isn’t pulling punches. He says some lawmakers are putting election year politics ahead of saving lives.
Alex Young is among the more than 800 people who died from fentanyl last year.
Andy and Bridget Young say their son was bigger than life.
“His smiles were big, his hugs were big and his way of life was big. He did everything over the top,” Bridget said.
And they did everything good parents do.
“We literally held hands and prayed every night at dinner,” she said.
Then came the night last September that the 24 year old took a pill he thought was Xanax, went to sleep, and never woke up.
The pill was laced with fentanyl. His death was ruled an overdose. His parents say it was a poisoning.
“He was murdered,” said Andy.
“This is a poison that came into our house and no one had any idea that it was there,” said Bridget.
It’s now everywhere, in every street drugs ranging from pot to pills sold as oxy and adderall. And it’s killing thousands of Coloradans.
“We’ve got to do something. Doing nothing is not an answer to this,” Andy said.
Speaker of the House Alec Garnett agrees. He’s spent hundreds of hours on a bill that makes distribution of even small amounts of fentanyl a felony and requires mandatory prison for those who sell fentanyl resulting in death, whether they knew it was fentanyl or not.
But some lawmakers say unless the bill includes felony charges for anyone caught with any amount of fentanyl, they’ll oppose it.
Under the bill, less than 4 grams is a misdemeanor.
“I am frustrated that people across the state just think that just zeroing out possession on fentanyl is somehow going to solve this problem,” says Garnett.
Still, he agrees the bill doesn’t go far enough.
“I believe that 4 grams of fentanyl is too much fentanyl. It is not personal use we are talking about.”
Mesa County District Attorney Dan Rubinstein supports the bill but would also support an amendment that allows him to charge people who have even 1 gram of fentanyl with a felony.
“Because the felony incentivizes treatment. I don’t want people convicted of the felony. I don’t want people going to prison for the felony. I don’t want people who are addicts winding up in those situations. I want the underlying problem addressed,” he said.
It’s leverage. But, he says the penalties for dealers are what’s most important in the bill.
“People are dying on our streets literally every day because of this drug and we need to act now and get this legislation passed as soon as can.”
Garnett admits the bill is in trouble. If he amends it, he could lose the support of those who say no one should be charged for possession alone.
“My job is to make sure that the bill doesn’t die and I am committed to working around the clock to make sure that doesn’t happen. But I am nervous that people are choosing politics over saving lives,” he said.
Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty is investigating Alex Young’s death, but unless the bill passes, he can only charge the killer with reckless manslaughter, which could result in probation.
“It’s just so unfortunate that we know tomorrow morning there’s going to be other parents that are going to wake up with the same nightmare. It’s crazy that we’re letting it happen,” said Andy.
The Youngs say they share Alex’s story to warn other parents. Many people they say haven’t even heard of fentanyl.
The bill calls for a statewide public awareness campaign and includes millions of dollars for treatment and criminal investigations.
It gets its first hearing the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday.