The prevalence of fentanyl in Colorado is a serious public health issue that is claiming the lives of beloved members of our communities, and we need to act to protect vulnerable Coloradans from this deadly drug. But House Bill 1326, which Colorado lawmakers are currently considering to address this crisis, is a regressive and harmful policy centering on punishment and incarceration and will not reduce fentanyl use and overdose deaths.
As members of the Peer Leadership Team for the Yarrow Collective, a peer-run organization providing education, resources, and community for others with mental health and substance use issues in Northern Colorado, it’s incredibly disappointing to see our state lawmakers taking a punitive approach toward addressing the fentanyl crisis rather than one that actually supports vulnerable Coloradans. We’ve seen firsthand how compassion, supportive communities, and access to treatment can help Coloradans overcome substance use disorders, but this bill takes the opposite approach.
The spike in fentanyl-related overdose deaths is a serious crisis that warrants immediate attention from policymakers, but HB-1326 is gravely misguided and will only cause more harm to our communities. In its current form, HB-1326 makes simple possession of anything more than one gram of fentanyl a felony. Terrifyingly, fentanyl contamination of other drugs is rampant, meaning that this legislation could result in a torrent of felony charges for Coloradans for a drug they didn’t even know they possessed. Instead of providing a path out of the vicious cycle of substance use and addiction, this bill will trap countless Coloradans in cycles of incarceration that devastate families.
Drug War policies that focus on criminalization have been proven to fail, and it’s past time for a shift in our approach toward evidence-based public health solutions to address this public health crisis. That means funding substance use treatment programs and harm reduction programs that are accessible for all Coloradans, regardless of their income level or where they live.
When it comes to mental health and substance use issues, many Coloradans are in crisis with very limited – if any – options for treatment and support. In addition to ranking last in access to mental health services, Colorado is failing to meet the demand for voluntary drug use treatment.
According to a Colorado Health Institute survey, more than 95,000 Coloradans reported they did not receive the substance use treatment they needed in 2019. In addition to cost barriers and availability of services, stigma was a major deterrent to individuals getting and seeking help. Criminalization and incarceration are inherently stigmatizing, and this bill will only deter even more Coloradans from seeking support.
A fiscal analysis released by nonpartisan legislative staff projects that increased prison space for the estimated 152 additional felony possession cases created by this bill will cost Colorado $8.7 million. That’s $8.7 million that we could invest in substance use treatment, mental health care, affordable housing, and other community supports and services that could address the root causes of this crisis. Instead, HB-1326 would continue a costly cycle of mass incarceration, wasting critical resources and causing poverty and trauma in our communities that can have ripple effects across generations.
The prevalence of fentanyl in our state is terrifying, and we need to take action now to protect vulnerable Coloradans from this deadly drug and prevent overdose. But punishing Coloradans who are struggling with addiction lacks the common sense and compassion required to tackle the fentanyl crisis and instead puts vulnerable members of our communities at an even higher risk. Colorado lawmakers, please reject felony provisions in HB-1326 and demand solutions that support rather than punish and ensure that all Coloradans who want to recover from drug addiction have the opportunity to do so.
Ashleigh Jones is a Peer Support Coordinator for Yarrow Collective and Geena Rupp is an Organizational Support Advocate for Yarrow Collective. Yarrow Collective is a peer-led mental health and substance use support organization.