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Denver Street Drugs Laced – or Loaded – with Deadly Fentanyl

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Billie Stanton Anleu

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Coronavirus autopsies overwhelmed other coroners last year, but the surge in cases for Denver’s medical examiner was chiefly due to illicit opioids — especially fentanyl.

“People who use illicit drugs in Denver are at a higher risk for fatal overdose than ever before,” warns Robert McDonald, executive director of public health in Denver.

That’s because much Oxycodone and Xanax sold on the street has little or none of those drugs but is full of deadly fentanyl, the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner reports.

So is cocaine, heroin, Ecstasy and methamphetamine, as fentanyl’s wicked purveyors exploit their drug’s potency — up to 100 times stronger than morphine.

Denver’s 18 fentanyl-related deaths in 2017 ballooned to 159 in 2020. And seven children aged 10 to 18 died of fentanyl last year, after only one such death since 2017.

Midway through 2021, the tragic trend continues, with a recent rate of two fentanyl-related deaths a day in Denver alone.

The University of Denver isn’t exempt. A DU student living off-campus died this summer because of fentanyl, reports Quinn Paton, director of prevention services at Vivent Health Denver.

DU is working with Vivent Health and its Lifepoint program to share its informational flyers via social media and soon will be providing education and outreach on the campus, says Eva Esakoff, MA, a health promotion coordinator at the University’s Health & Counseling Center.

That will complement the work already underway full steam throughout the city, state and nation:

  • Vivent, among its many services, provides free fentanyl test strips and training on how to use them, as well as Narcan nasal spray, which can be administered to stop overdoses. (Visit
  • DanceSafe ( also provides fentanyl strips and Narcan, as well as a longtime needle exchange program. In addition, its staff and volunteers show up at concerts to dole out the testing strips lest music lovers unwittingly consume fentanyl.
  • And (800-484-3731) urges people to never take drugs when alone – but offers them a lifeline if they do. “If you are going to use by yourself, call us! You will be asked for your first name, location, and the number you are calling from. An operator will stay on the line with you while you use. If you stop responding after using, the operator will notify emergency services of an \"unresponsive person\" at your location.”

Emergency medical services, not police, typically respond to those calls. And the organization ensures confidentiality for all callers.

  • sees the opioid crisis as a public health emergency that needs to be treated as such. The group tries to provide all the Narcan it can, though supplies sometimes run low. The center advises: “If you live on Earth, you should be carrying Narcan/naloxone which can save someone's life in the event of an opioid overdose. You need it?! Most major insurances cover it, you just pay your co-pay, and you can find it in your local pharmacy.”

Back on campus at DU, Waltrina DeFrantz-Dufor has seen the toll drugs can take and is eager to enlighten the University community to prevent harm from fentanyl.

As director of the Collegiate Recovery Community at DU’s Health and Counseling Center, she works with drug-free, sober community members to help them stay that way.

If a DU community member needs help – or knows someone who abuses illegal drugs – she advises them to:

  • First, notify the DU Crisis Assessment Risk Evaluation (C.A.R.E.) Behavioral Intervention Team by submitting an SOS referral.
  • Ask if they have Naloxone, the life-saving drug for an overdose. If not, share the ways they can obtain it. It’s available at many pharmacies; a minimal co-pay may be required.
  • On-call counselors are at the DU Health and Counseling Center (Ritchie Center, third floor, 303-871-2205). The center’s support services coordinator can connect students with appropriate resources. A student also can receive confidential support right from their phone through My SSP: Student Support Program! Search for My SSP on your device's app store, download and complete your profile to chat and phone a My SSP advisor/counselor 24/7, from anywhere. For a demo video, click MySSP App Demo Video.
  • The Center for Collegiate Recovery (, 303-871-3699, 1931 S. York St. in Denver).
  • Inform the community. If someone suspects an overdose is occurring, most AED boxes on the campus have a Narcan kit. (For specific locations, contact the Collegiate Recovery Program at 303-871-3699 or
  • Also, encourage people to submit a request for Opioid Overdose Prevention training via HCC Outreach Training Request. For information about how to be a Recovery Ally for the Collegiate Recovery Program, click HCC Outreach and Trainings.

The highly addictive fentanyl originated as a medication to ease people’s pain, and many patients turned to dangerous street substitutes when their prescriptions ran out. Nowadays, though, China is sending chemicals to Mexico, where fentanyl is manufactured, often in the middle of cattle fields to elude detection.

Ultimately, of course, a sober, drug-free lifestyle is the best course for many. But as fentanyl keeps claiming lives, the focus now is to stanch the death toll however possible.