Fentanyl an issue Routt County can’t ignore

After nine overdose deaths related to the drug between 2000 and 2019, there have been seven more locally since 2020

Fentanyl, shown on this pencil tip in the size of a potentially lethal dose, is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Two milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal, depending on a person’s body size, tolerance and history of use.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration/Courtesy

Fentanyl is in Routt County and the repercussions are getting worse.

It took repeated doses of Narcan from law enforcement to save the life of an individual who was overdosing on the high-powered synthetic opioid last week.

“My deputies gave four hits of Narcan (and) were able to save the individual’s life,” Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said. “It’s on the rise. It’s on the rise here. It’s on the rise everywhere in our nation.”

There were two fentanyl overdose deaths locally in January, according to Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg. He remembers at least five in the last six months.

“It’s a lot to have in a small town like ours,” Ryg said.

From 2000 to 2019, there were nine fentanyl deaths in Routt County, according to state data. Since 2020 there have been seven more, said Lindsey Simbeye, a Steamboat Springs resident who works with the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention.

Simbeye said the administration of Narcan, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses, saved a life in another 16 incidents over the last two years.

“The amount of overdose reversals and death that we’re seeing in our community is scary,” Simbeye said. “We need to be talking about this now.”

The community is invited to attend the Fentanyl Education and Crisis Prevention event at 6 p.m. Monday, April 11, at Steamboat Springs High School Auditorium.
Shelby DeWolfe/Courtesy

At 6 p.m. on Monday, April 11, a variety of partners are putting on a Fentanyl Education & Crisis Prevention event at Steamboat Springs High School . The event focuses on educating students and parents about the danger even minuscule amounts of the drug can pose.

The hope is starting the conversation now will save lives.

“We know kids are going to experiment; we know kids are going to take pills that they don’t know what they are,” said Chris Ray, a peer recovery specialist with the Health Partnership. “If they are educated and armed with information, then they’re less likely to use it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that’s 50-100 times more potent than morphine.

In 2021, fentanyl overdose was the No. 1 killer for people between the ages of 18 and 45, Simbeye said. There were 40,010 fentanyl deaths in that age group nationwide last year. That’s double the number of deaths due to suicide, car accidents, cancer or COVID-19.

Colorado has seen one of the highest surges in deaths due to the drug in the country. Between 2015 and 2021, the number of fentanyl related deaths in Colorado increased tenfold, according to a study using CDC data from the group Families Against Fentanyl.

Ray and Simbeye gave a short presentation at a Routt County United Way Human Resources Coalition meeting last month, using some of the figures they see as alarming. Shelby DeWolfe, behavioral health coordinator for the Steamboat Springs School District, said the warning to her was clear.

“Those on the front lines of this, we’re extremely concerned that we were going to lose another young life in our community to this,” DeWolfe said. “They were passionate and desperate to get this information to students and parent.”

Monday’s event will aim to teach parents about fentanyl and help them start a conversation with their children about how dangerous it is.

“What we’re really fighting is that ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome,” Ray said.

The truth is many who die from fentanyl didn’t know what they were really taking. Wiggins said people who overdose have often taken other substances such as cocaine, heroine or meth laced with fentanyl. Small traces of it can be so deadly that Wiggins said deputies no longer test any substances in the field out of caution.

Counterfeit pills are a large part of the problem.

“We are seeing a lot of what is commonly known on the street as ‘the blues,'” Simbeye said, referring to blue pills made to look like OxyContin M30 pills, but are really fentanyl.

While OxyContin fakes are most prevalent locally, there are counterfeit pills made to look like Adderall and Xanax as well. Ray said there have even been some cases of marijuana laced with fentanyl.

Simbeye said what is so scary about these pills is how often people at a younger age will pass them around, believing they are genuine. Maybe while stressed out, a friend offers a Xanax, she said.

“You trust that friend because they’re your friend,” she said. “Your friend may have gotten it from another friend who they trusted … and they may have actually bought it on the black market and it’s not Xanex at all. That’s just how easy it is.”

The Fentanyl Education & Crisis Prevention event will happen just before Steamboat’s spring break, and Ray said they hope to do another before prom and a third before the summer starts. Officials emphasized that reaching younger students with the information is important.

“If we don’t get this information out to the general public so that they’re aware of it, there’s potential for the next death to be someone young because they just don’t know,” Simbeye said.

The community is invited to attend the event at 6 p.m. Monday at Steamboat Springs High School Auditorium.

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