COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) - The monetary cost of Colorado’s fentanyl crisis has increased by 750 percent in just five years, according to an analysis by Common Sense Institute (CSI). On Monday, Colorado business leaders and law enforcement discussed how the deadly drug is leaving behind a paper trail in the billions.
Fentanyl is costing thousands of Coloradans their lives, and the loss of these people is leaving a huge hole in their families, workplaces, and communities as a whole.
Healthcare costs, loss of productivity, the value of statistical life lost: all equalling $11.1 billion in 2021. CSI says that's almost triple the amount of $4.4 billion in 2019.
“What might be seen as a 'crime issue' is certainly affecting all Coloradans, including the business community, not only in terms of attracting and retaining workforce but also, these are lives on the line," said Debbie Brown, President of the Colorado Business Roundtable.
The drug crisis is also creating roadblocks for businesses that are already working to bounce back from the pandemic.
"Right now a barrier to fully restoring our economy, attracting new businesses and new employees, is the proliferation of fentanyl and other illicit drugs in our community, which ultimately constrains the available workforce," said JJ Ament, President, and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber. "And in many cases, the drug activity is taking place right in front of the office, or on the train to work or in a variety of other public spaces.”
During a virtual meeting Monday of members of the law enforcement community and Colorado business leaders, many said they support making any amount of fentanyl manufacturing and distribution a felony, which is something that’s not included in a recently-released bipartisan bill to combat the drug crisis. In 2019, possession of fewer than four grams was changed from a felony to only a misdemeanor.
"Fentanyl should be changed back to a felony," said Mitch Morrissey, former District Attorney and CSI Criminal Justice Fellow. "Any illicit possession of fentanyl should be a felony. Currently, you can possess enough fentanyl to kill 2,000 people, and that would only be a misdemeanor in the state of Colorado. I think that's ridiculous. I think these numbers and these amounts economically prove that it's time to treat fentanyl-like we should, and consider it a deadly or dangerous item."
"Fentanyl kills... period. More than any other drug that we have seen in a long time," said George Brauchler, CSI Criminal Justice Fellow. "If we don't start treating it like the killer it is, it will continue to kill in greater and greater numbers. We are seeing almost a doubling of fentanyl-related deaths every single year. We're getting up to the amount where we're almost at three Coloradans a day dying from a fentanyl overdose. Treating this thing like it's marijuana or treating it like it's a speeding ticket is offensive to the value of human life in Colorado."
Since passing legislation to change possession back to a felony could take a while, the Colorado Chamber says businesses can educate their workforce to make an impact on the crisis right now.
"I think the more education that we can provide to the workforce on the deadly effects of fentanyl, the better," said Loren Furman, President and CEO of the Colorado Chamber. "That's where I see some real opportunities for employers to make this issue relevant to their employees that are maybe not as educated about it as they should be.”
According to a Common Sense Institute analysis, in 2020, Colorado experienced 540 fentanyl-related deaths, an increase of 143 percent from 2019. In 2021, there were over 800 fentanyl-related deaths, a 260 percent increase from 2019.
For the Common Sense Institute's full study on fentanyl's toll on Colorado, click here.