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Accidental fentanyl poisoning likely cause of deaths of 5 adults in Commerce City, DA says

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Posted at 12:21 PM, Feb 21, 2022

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The five adults found dead inside a Commerce City apartment unit Sunday likely died of unintentional fentanyl poisoning, 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason said Monday.

"The evidence suggests that the five people who died last night died from a drug overdose and that the drug overdose was fentanyl," Mason said. "It also suggests they probably thought they were taking a different drug and didn't know that it was laced with fentanyl."

Mason said he believes the group was using what they thought was cocaine when in reality it was most likely fentanyl.

MORE: 'It's the devil': Dad speaks out after son, several others found dead of likely fentanyl poisoning

The five adults were found dead inside a Commerce City apartment on Sunday afternoon. A sixth adult and a 4-month-old child survived.

Officers with the Commerce City Police Department responded to the North Range Crossings Apartments, located at 14400 block of E. 104th Avenue, around 3:45 p.m. after receiving multiple reports of unconscious people in one of the apartment units. A hazmat team, the Drug Enforcement Administration and North Metro Drug Task Force also responded to be sure the scene was safe before others entered.

Once inside, police found five adults — three women, two men — deceased. They also found a woman and 4-month-old had been inside, but were able to get out of the apartment.

Commerce City Chief of Police Clint Nichols said the infant is fine and the woman was "lucid" and was talking with police after they arrived. Commerce City Police spokesperson Commander Rob McCoy said in a news release Monday the woman, who is 29 years old, was taken to a hospital and is receiving medical care.

As police investigated at the scene, they found substances that can "be described as illicit narcotics," according to the department. They did not find hazardous gas in the apartment.

"Fentanyl is ravaging our community, and it is extraordinarily dangerous. It's lethal, and it's fast," Mason said. "Drug cartels love fentanyl. It's good for their business model. It's cheaper for them to make. It's easy for them to distribute. They can lace it in all of their other drugs, like cocaine, like heroin."

In the news release Monday afternoon, McCoy confirmed it appears all five ingested suspected fentanyl and died as a result. He also identified the victims' gender and age.

The victims were a 24-year-old man, a 28-year-old woman, a 32-year-old woman, a 29-year-old woman and a 32-year-old man, McCoy said. The Adams County Coroner's Office will release the formal identifications of the victims.

He added that police were investigating who sold or provided the five with the drugs that are suspected of killing them.

"In addition to investigating the scene, Commerce City Police Department detectives are aggressively pursuing leads on where the narcotics were obtained and will vigorously pursue charges for those who sold/provided the drugs," McCoy said.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, as of Monday, the department had recorded 1,659 drug overdose deaths among Colorado residents in 2021.

Of those, 1,104 involved some sort of opioid, said Kirk Bol, MSPH, the manager of the Vital Statistic Program. And 803 drug overdose deaths involved fentanyl of some form.

Bol said final numbers should be completed by early May.

Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis, said Polis “believes the General Assembly needs to act on a comprehensive approach to address the dangers of fentanyl including increased criminal penalties.”

In December, lawmakers pledged to tackles fentanyl with a sweeping bill this legislative session, as they, they attorney general, and local law enforcement officials said the fentanyl crisis needed to be addressed. The package has yet to be introduced.

“While there is no guarantee that increased criminal penalties would have prevented this tragedy, we clearly need real consequences and harsher sentences for those involved with dealing or possessing enough fentanyl to kill people,” Cahill said.

“This drug is unlike any our country has seen before, people are taking it without even realizing they are doing so which is why we urgently need comprehensive solutions that includes harsher penalties and also address the unique nature of this crisis and to do more to bring awareness to the problem,” Cahill added.

Steve Carleton, executive clinic director at Gallus Medical Detox, says fentanyl is so pervasive that some people who enter his inpatient treatment facility don't even know they're hooked on it.

"It's very shocking for patients when they come in here and they have no idea that they're even taking this substance," he said.

At the detox center location in Littleton, Carleton says his staff can wean people off fentanyl in just seven days.

"We have an accelerated micro-induction process where we're giving short-acting opiates and staggering that by micro-inducing Subutex, and that works very well in managing symptoms," he said. "What we do here is offer people an option to get off of the opiates completely, and our emphasis is getting people into aftercare."

Local health agencies provide resources like fentanyl test strips to reduce overdose risk. The Tri-County Health Department, which serves Adams County, provides syringe access services Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in Aurora at 1475 Lima Street.

As of last week, Denver residents are also able to order fentanyl testing strips and Naloxone from the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment.