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Arapahoe County deputy shares his experience from the frontline of the fentanyl crisis

Arapahoe Co. deputy details encounters with suspected fentanyl poisonings
Posted at 10:31 PM, Feb 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-23 13:03:37-05

DENVER — Fentanyl is fueling tragedy in Colorado. The names and faces of those lost to the powerful synthetic opioid are proof.

According to the latest data provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), 1,659 drug overdose deaths have been recorded for 2021. Of those, 803 specifically involved fentanyl of some form.

The crisis caused even more heartache over the weekend when five people were found dead inside a Commerce City home. Investigators said all five had been poisoned by fentanyl.

For police and paramedics, cases where fentanyl is suspected are never easy. Personal protective equipment (PPE) becomes increasingly crucial as first responders encounter more fentanyl on the job.

"My gloves... I immediately take them out and put them on and then if I have a medical grade mask, I put that on as well," said Deputy Chris Calderon of the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office

Calderon responded to about eight overdose calls last year. During six of those calls, he used Narcan to revive the person or persons involved.

"I like to carry two doses of Narcan," he said. "Because if I use one, I don't have to come back to headquarters and grab another one. There's actually three in my car."

Narcan reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

In Dec. 2021, Calderon responded to a 911 call where a woman took a "blue pill" and was later found unresponsive and not breathing by her friend. The whole thing was captured on the deputy's body-worn camera.

During the incident, the friend can be heard saying, "She was drinking and she took one of those blue pills... the blue [pills]... the fentanyl pills they are all taking nowadays."

Less than five minutes after Calderon arrives on scene, he is seen administering Narcan. The woman would later begin breathing again.

Days after the ordeal, Calderon says the woman thanked him profusely.

"She told me after she went to the hospital, they found other severe health problems, so she was just very thankful," he said.

According to the Denver division of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the fentanyl trend isn't slowing down anytime soon. In 2019, the agency seized an estimated 81,000 pills in the state. In 2020, an estimated 360,000 pills were seized. So far in 2022, the administration has already seized 800,000 pills.

"The other alarming trend that's out there is that the drug trafficking organizations are also now lacing other illicit drugs with fentanyl, so namely cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine," said Acting Special Agent in Charge David Olesky with the DEA.

He says this means there's higher chances of recreational users encountering a substance that could kill them.

"There's no oversight regulation in a garage in Mexico where they're mass producing these pills," Olesky said. "When the drug traffickers are looking at this, they might not be trying to kill their end user, but they don't mind if you happen to die in the process. That's not a concern of theirs. That's simply the cost of doing business, and they're in the business of making money."