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Mike Johnston

1. Preliminary data shows 220 people died in Denver in the last year alone from fentanyl. That’s more than the city’s combined deaths from traffic fatalities and homicides in 2022. As mayor, how would you respond to this deadly epidemic?


The explosion in severity of addictive drugs has touched every corner of this City. Right now, too few people have access to addiction treatment. As Mayor, I will work to expand access to mental health and addiction services by providing wraparound care in microcommunities for people experiencing homelessness and by converting two pods of the Denver Jail into mental health and addiction treatment facilities so that low-level offenders can get the support they need to get back on their feet. Fentanyl needs to be treated as the life threatening poison that it is, and we need to do everything in our power to get it off the streets, to crack down on dealers, and to get users access to treatment that can help them recover.


2. Specifically, what do you see as the roles of law enforcement, prevention, treatment, and/or harm reduction?


I support DPD’s new fentanyl investigative unit which will hopefully reduce the supply of fentanyl. All law enforcement officers should be carrying Naloxone and should be trained on how to administer it to save lives. Harm-reduction practices will be important in the near-term as we work to address this issue, but prevention, early intervention, and treatment will play a key role in addressing the opioid epidemic long-term. As mayor, I will expand mental health services and treatment facilities so all Denverites have access to care. This includes providing on-site wraparound services in microcommunities, converting two pods of the jail to treatment facilities, and providing more support for early intervention and treatment programs.


3. How would you keep Denver youth safe from fentanyl? How would you collaborate with Denver Public Schools and other youth-serving organizations on this issue?


We are unfortunately living in a dangerous reality with fentanyl. That means we have to be honest with our young people about the risks for drugs like fentanyl. As Mayor, I’ll work closely with DPS and local organizations to increase age-appropriate, trauma-informed, and evidence-based outreach to students to ensure our young people are receiving early education on the topic. This also means making sure all Denver students have access to after school and summer activities to keep them away from the risks of addiction and negative influences. I will expand a pilot program that we created to offer low income students access to after school and summer programming of their choice that helps them find their passion.


4. What is your position regarding last year’s fentanyl possession debate in the Colorado General Assembly and the resulting law? The law authorizes felony charges for possessing more than one gram of fentanyl, down from the previous four-gram felony threshold. Do you support this 2022 law or would you have preferred a different approach? Please explain.


I supported the effort to return possession to a felony charge. We need to tackle this deadly problem head on and use every tool in our toolbox, including strongly disincentivizing fentanyl possession. But the purpose of this enhanced charge is not to put people into prison, but to get people into treatment. We know that drug court worked in Denver because it helped get people into treatment and get healthy. Removing the option of a felony led to the collapse of drug court and the rapid increase in overdose deaths from fentanyl.