Vail Town Council, community advocate for harm reduction measures in town￼
Town to look into making fentanyl test strips and Narcan more readily available for guests, residents
On Tuesday, Dec. 20, members of Vail’s community as well as its Town Council advocated for more access to harm reduction measures as the fentanyl crisis continues to rise in the community and across the state.
Council member Jen Mason asked during the afternoon session for majority support to make fentanyl test strips readily available at bars in the community. Mason said she was responding to requests from community members who were asking why the strips weren’t readily available and if they could be.
The idea was supported by a show of hands with Council member Barry Davis adding that he spoke to Vail’s Chief of Police Dwight Henninger about the same topic this week.
“He was supportive of the idea of a safe and discreet location for people to freely pick up a test kit as they might need something. He had some ideas on that,” Davis said.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 80 to 100 times stronger than morphine, and 10 times stronger than heroin — meaning a lethal dose of fentanyl is significantly smaller than a lethal dose of any other opiate.
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The substance’s prevalence as well as fentanyl-related overdoses have risen sharply in Colorado in recent years, with the death toll increasing at a faster rate than all other states (except Alaska) from 2015 to 2021. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of fatal overdoses increased by 70%. In 2021, of the 1,881 drug overdose deaths in Colorado, 912 were opioid-related with mention of fentanyl.
Resident Robyn Smith, in addressing Town Council on Tuesday, described such incidences as a “poisoning.”
“That’s really how it was described to me and I think that’s how we can talk about it too,” Smith said. “If you were to buy a bottle of wine and it killed you because there was something in it, we wouldn’t call that an overdose, we would call that a poisoning.”
This nationwide and statewide rise of fentanyl can be attributed to numerous factors. However, according to a 2021 report to Congress from the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, some of these factors include that the drug can be manufactured “virtually anywhere,” is cheap to produce, and can be tailored to numerous psycho effects. The extreme potency of fentanyl allows for high profits in small volumes.
Part of fentanyl’s danger lies within the ability of the white substance to be easily disguised in other substances. In 2021, the Gore Range Narcotics Interdiction Team, also known as GRANITE, seized 70 pounds of fentanyl along the I-70 corridor running through Eagle County, exclusively in counterfeit oxycodone M30 pills.
According to Ashley LaFleur, a public information officer with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, GRANITE has seized 9.7 pounds of fentanyl along the I-70 corridor so far in 2022.
As this crisis continues to grow in Colorado, numerous Eagle County agencies and organizations have begun to advocate for increased education and harm reduction measures. On Tuesday night, Vail became the latest community to have the conversation.
Tools to mitigate risks
As a general concept, harm reduction refers to actions that mitigate the risks of other actions. With regard to fentanyl, the two main harm reduction tools are fentanyl test strips to mitigate against the risk of fentanyl being in substances, and Naloxone, or Narcan, to mitigate the overdose risks associated with opioid use.
“Who do you trust with your deepest, darkest secrets? Your bartender. So we can make test strips available in every bar, at every event, and at every hotel — that way it’s normalized and easily available,” Smith said.
This, she added, could serve a couple of purposes. First, having test strips available and visible reminds individuals to test drugs. Second, it can lead to better decision-making on whether to use the drug. And third, if that individual makes the decision to use drugs, Narcan could also be made available.
“Just like we have an AED in every building and every bartender in Vail goes through TIPS training where they learn about the Heimlich maneuver, CPR and they know how to identify and recognize intoxication, Narcan isn’t a part of that. And it should be,” Smith said.
Already, numerous agencies and organizations in Eagle County have begun to carry Narcan, which is the nasal spray version of Naloxone. Naloxone rapidly reduces opioid overdose by blocking the effects of the drugs. When administered, it can quickly restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped due to an overdose.
Local emergency and law enforcement agencies all carry or have Narcan on hand. Eagle County Paramedics started a program in 2021 to distribute Narcan to homes. High Rockies Harm Reduction, which was started in Carbondale, provides education, support services and both harm reduction tools for free across mountain communities. Earlier this year, the Eagle County School District made the decision to include Narcan in its first aid kits at all schools in the district.
At the conclusion of the Town Council’s discussion — with a show of hands in support of expanding access to harm reduction tools — Town Manager Russ Forrest said he’d look into programs and partnerships to increase accessibility to test strips and Narcan in the community.