Three Cortez Motel Deaths Blamed on Fentanyl Use – The Durango Herald

The rise of fentanyl, a powerful opioid, on the black market has prompted warnings from the Drug Enforcement Agency about its potential for addiction and fatal overdose.

Alcohol was a contributing factor; the triple death is one of several group deaths cited in the DEA warning

A combination of fentanyl and alcohol was blamed for the deaths of three people found dead in a motel room in Cortez on March 4, according to Montezuma County Coroner George Deavers.

Shondella L. Silas, 44, of Towaoc, Tharon F. Grayhair, 40, of White Mesa, Utah, and Tilden D. Arrates, 27, of Towaoc all died of a fentanyl-related overdose, autopsies show , Deavers said.

Silas and Arrates were members of the Ute Mountain Ute tribe, and Grayhair was Navajo. Their bodies were discovered in a room at the Sand Canyon National 9 Inn, 301 W. Main St. No foul play was suspected, the Cortez Police Department said.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The pharmaceutical fentanyl is prescribed for cancer patients’ pain management, but the drug is also made on the black market and disguised on the streets as the less potent opioid oxycodone pill.

Fentanyl is often added to other drugs because of its potency, making the drugs cheaper, more potent, more addictive and more dangerous, according to the CDC.

Police reported that pills containing fentanyl were found in the motel room. Drugs have been circulating on the Montezuma County black market for some time, according to the Montezuma-Cortez Narcotics Task Force.

In general, 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal, depending on a person’s size, tolerance and past use, and if it was combined with other drugs and alcohol, according to the DEA.

Autopsies showed the three people who died on March 4 all had more than 2 milligrams, Deavers said.

The Cortez incident and similar situations were used as examples of why tougher fentanyl laws were needed.

On April 6, the DEA sent a letter to federal, state, and local law enforcement warning of a national spike in fentanyl-related overdoses involving multiple people.

Letter from DEA Administrator Anne Milgram says people in Cortez motel room overdosed and died “after ingesting what they believed to be 30mg oxycodone pills , but were actually fake prescription pills containing fentanyl”.

“Fentanyl is killing Americans at an unprecedented rate,” Milgram said. “Already this year, numerous massive overdoses have resulted in dozens of overdoses and deaths. Drug dealers promote addiction and increase their profits by mixing fentanyl with other illicit drugs. Tragically, many overdose victims have no idea they are ingesting deadly fentanyl until it is too late.

Massive fentanyl-related overdose events have occurred in at least seven US cities in recent months, resulting in 58 overdoses and 29 deaths, according to the DEA.

Cities affected include Cortez and Commerce City, Colorado; Wilton Manors, Florida; Austin, TX; Omaha, Nebraska; St. Louis, Missouri; and Washington, D.C.

The illegally manufactured fentanyl pills featured here are strong opioids that can lead to addiction and overdose. The drug is sometimes used in counterfeit oxycodone pills sold on the black market. (Courtesy of the Cortez Police Department)

The CDC estimates that in the 12 months ending in October, more than 105,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, and more than 66% of deaths were related to fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. In 2021, the United States recorded more fentanyl-related deaths than gun and automobile-related deaths combined.

The Colorado Legislature has proposed Bill 22-1326 to strengthen criminal penalties for the illegal distribution of fentanyl and provide treatment for drug abusers. The bill passed the House on Monday at third reading.

The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett of Denver and Republican Representative Mike Lynch of Wellington. In the Senate, he was sponsored by Democratic Senator Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood and Republican Senator John Cooke of Greeley.

“Today the House has taken a monumental step forward to address the fentanyl crisis, crack down on the dealers who peddle death in our communities, and accelerate our state’s public health response to get this deadly drug off our streets. and save lives,” Garnett said in a press release.

The bill would make it a crime to knowingly possess more than one gram of fentanyl compound/mixture and create legal safeguards for people who were unaware they were in possession of fentanyl.

The bill would also give law enforcement officers tools to demand treatment for people with a substance use disorder.

Defendants in possession of any amount of the fentanyl compound would be assessed for a substance use disorder and required to complete an education program developed by the Department of Health and Colorado Environment.

Under the bill, people assessed with a substance use disorder would be required to undergo mandatory treatment.

The new crime includes a provision that would allow people who have completed treatment to have the crime reduced to a misdemeanor on their criminal record.

The legislation creates a grant fund for law enforcement to continue investigations into fentanyl poisonings, provides funding to crisis stabilization centers and drug rehabilitation centers, and expands drug treatment in prisons.

HB 22-1326 allocates $29 million in American Rescue Plan Act federal funds to implement Behavioral Health Task Force recommendations on effective harm reduction strategies and increased access to addiction treatment in the criminal justice system.

Fatal drug overdoses in Montezuma County have increased over the past eight years, Deavers said.

From 2019 to 2021, an average of eight people died per year, compared to six in 2017 and 2018 and four in 2015. In 2016, 11 people died of drug overdoses in Montezuma County.

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