As fentanyl overdoses continue to spike and the subsequent outcry grows, Pikes Peak Area Crime Stoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for tips leading to arrests of anyone distributing the synthetic drug.
The organization, a nonprofit based in Colorado Springs, announced the reward Tuesday afternoon. The group seeks tips related to fentanyl distribution "in any amount."
In its statement, it noted the "numerous fatalities from this drug across the region, most recently when several young people died of this substance in Colorado Springs." In December, a high school student fatally overdosed in class after allegedly snorting a fentanyl pill.
In El Paso County, deaths involving fentanyl have surged from seven in 2015 to 44 in 2020. That record was far outstripped in 2021: At least 88 county residents died after ingesting fentanyl in 2021, with some data from the end of the year still outstanding. Statewide, deaths have exploded 20-fold from 2015, from roughly 40 to more than 800 last year. Fentanyl-related deaths accounted for nearly half of the state's 1,659 fatal overdoses in 2021, up from just over 100 in 2018.
"This increase in reward amount is to incentivize citizens to come forward with information that will assist law enforcement agencies reduce distribution of this lethal and illegal substance," the group wrote. The organization "shares information on a TOTALLY ANONYMOUS basis with law enforcement in the region."
More information can be found on the group's website.
The increased reward comes as lawmakers are reportedly debating changes to state law governing fentanyl possession with intent to distribute. Fatal fentanyl overdoses have been surging in recent years, amid shifts in the drug market and, more recently, the isolation and shutdowns brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has legitimate uses as a medical anesthetic and is far stronger than heroin or morphine. But because it's cheap to produce, potent in small doses and easy to transport, it's become a favorite product of drug cartels.
The surge in deaths brought about by fentanyl's increasing prevalence has prompted an outcry across the state, from law enforcement and lawmakers to advocates and public health officials. It's led some to call for tighter criminal penalties for fentanyl possession, while others say the state needs to prioritize public health measures and efforts to keep users alive while offering them treatment opportunities.