How counterfeit drugs made to look like real pills have ravaged one Colorado county |

How counterfeit drugs made to look like real pills have ravaged one Colorado county

A Boulder 18-year-old’s overdose began a string of 2021 deaths tied to fentanyl. Since then, 13 more fentanyl overdoses have been confirmed and the causes of six other deaths are pending the results of toxicology tests.

Jennifer Brown and Olivia Prentzel
The Colorado Sun
Carrie and Ryan Panning on Monday, Sept. 27, 2021, in Parker. The couple’s oldest son, Ross, a student at CU Boulder, was working toward a degree in computer science when he died in June. “We didn’t even know about fentanyl until this happened to us,” Ryan Panning said. “I bet there are 1,000 people who are in the same boat as us.”
Olivia Sun/The Colorado Sun

Jack Swanson, 18, died in February while listening to music in his bed. Next to him were little blue pills and rectangular-shaped white ones, the kind sold in his hometown of Boulder and throughout Colorado as “mexis” and “xanny bars.”

Two in five of the counterfeit pills circulating the country, drugs made in Mexico to look like oxycodone and Xanax tablets, contain enough fentanyl to kill a person instantly.

In his obituary, Swanson’s parents wrote that he “was abusing drugs and fell asleep only to never wake up again.” There was no running from it, no keeping their teenager’s cause of death a secret as some had suggested to his mother, Patricia Swanson, warning her that his drug overdose could taint the reputation of her Boulder bilingual daycare center.

“Why should I hide something? I never hide my struggles or my weaknesses,” she told The Colorado Sun. “That day, many people said, ‘Don’t say he died this way because you have a business.’ I think that’s ignorant. So for me, I will not put it in a bottle. I will say what it is. If I can help his friends or any kids in Boulder or around the world, I will do it.”

Jack’s death, which shocked Boulder teenagers and sent parents into a panic, marked the beginning of a string of fentanyl overdoses in the county that have yet to relent. Two 18-year-olds died less than three days apart. Two young men, including a University of Colorado student, died separately on the same day in June. A second CU student died in August three days before the start of his senior year.

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