FBI Denver
Public Affairs Specialist Vikki Migoya
June 22, 2023

Agencies Warn of New Threats Associated with Fentanyl

An influx of substances, more potent and deadlier than ever, are being seized in Colorado in record amounts. Fentanyl pills in all colors, shapes, and sizes; fentanyl in liquid and powder form; and fentanyl adulterated with Xylazine are leading to an increased number of drug poisonings and overdoses throughout the state.

The local field offices of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Colorado State Patrol and the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, want the public to be aware and recognize the dangers of these substances, know how to protect themselves and help to spread the life-saving message One Pill Can Kill.

Fentanyl remains the leading cause of drug-related deaths in Colorado, increasing by more than 70 percent throughout the state in 2021. Fentanyl is a highly addictive synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Two milligrams of fentanyl, just enough to fit on the tip of a pencil, is considered a potentially lethal dose. In the last year, the DEA has reported a dramatic increase in the number of potentially lethal pills circulating in our communities.

In addition to pills designed to look like Oxycodone or other legitimate medications, fentanyl is found in powder form and can be mistaken for heroin or cocaine. It can also come in liquid form and has been seized in Colorado as a nasal spray. There is also concern about multi-colored fentanyl pills that come in a variety of shapes, including popular logos like Tesla and TikTok; the Versace “designer pill” is shaped like Medusa. Many of these pills are designed to attract a younger customer base.

Mexican cartels are responsible for the majority of fentanyl seized in Colorado. As a way to introduce fentanyl into the market, the cartel adulterated other illicit substances such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. However, fentanyl is now being adulterated with Xylazine. Xylazine is a non-opiate sedative, analgesic, and muscle relaxant only authorized in the United States for veterinary use, but it recently has been linked to overdose deaths throughout the country. In 2022, approximately 23 percent of fentanyl powder and 7 percent of fentanyl pills seized nationally by the DEA contained Xylazine. In 2023, fentanyl pills analyzed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation increasingly contain Xylazine. Since Xylazine is not an opioid, Naloxone might not reverse the effects of an overdose, essentially making the deadliest drug threat facing our country even deadlier.

“Fentanyl is the most urgent drug threat facing our communities and the cartels are one of our greatest security threats,” said DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge David Olesky. “The relationship between the cartels and the local street gangs and criminals groups drives the drug trade and the violence associated with it. The DEA Rocky Mountain Division has already removed nearly one million deadly doses of fentanyl pills from our communities this year and we show no signs of slowing down. Our mission includes holding the cartels responsible for the grave impact they’ve caused our communities. We are grateful to our local, state, and federal partners who join us in this important work.”

“Fentanyl in all its forms and variations is killing our children. It’s killing our families and neighbors. This is why disrupting drug trafficking organizations continues to be a top priority for FBI Denver,” said Special Agent in Charge Mark Michalek. “We have tools to go after the people responsible, and we will continue to do all we can to raise awareness and put a stop to fentanyl-related deaths and the associated suffering it brings to communities.”

“Fentanyl is deadly, and we are seeing new combinations of drugs mixed with fentanyl making it even more dangerous,” said U.S. Attorney for Colorado Cole Finegan. “Unless a drug comes from a licensed pharmacist, don’t take it—your life depends on it.”

“We remain extremely concerned as increased deadly fentanyl supplies at historic low prices are expected to continue fueling the illicit drug trade in Colorado communities,” said Keith Weis, executive director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

“So far this year, seizure amounts are quickly approaching 2022 numbers. In fact, your Colorado State Troopers have seen a resurgence of fentanyl and other illicit narcotics on our roadways over the last few weeks, and these loads are destined for our communities in Colorado,” stated Col. Matthew C. Packard, chief of the Colorado State Patrol. “The cartels and drug traffickers haven't lessened their grip on those addicted or experimenting with narcotics. And, we haven't lessened our commitment to removing every trafficker and every load from reaching its destination.”

The FBI is also closely watching the emergence of N-Pyrrolidino Etonitazene, otherwise known as Pyro. This synthetic opioid has been found in metro Denver.

The DEA, FBI, USAO, CBI, CSP, and HIDTA encourage people to use only prescription medications that were prescribed by a doctor and filled at a legitimate pharmacy within the United States. It is also important to note that legitimate pharmaceutical medications cannot be legally purchased on social media platforms.

We understand mental health and addiction are an ongoing concern in our communities. Local, state, and federal agencies will continue our work to stop the trafficking of illegal drugs in Colorado, but in addition to enforcement, we also need partners in recovery and prevention to continue their important work, as well as community leaders, friends, and caregivers to help spread public awareness. For more information and free resources, we encourage you to check out the One Pill Can Kill Public Awareness Campaign at www.dea.gov/onepill.