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Colorado Families Bring New Awareness To Fentanyl Poisonings In Summit

DENVER (CBS4) - On day one of a first-of-its-kind fentanyl summit at the Denver Art Museum, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors from both Adams and Broomfield counties heard from several Colorado families who lost loved ones to the lethal drug. Courtney Howard's brother, Tyler Schell, died last March after taking a dose of fentanyl.

Schell was 38. For Howard, it's still hard for her to look at his photos.

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"He was a father. My nephew turned 3 (years old) the day after his passing. He called his daughters his princesses," Howard said. "It's tough. It's extremely tough... picking up the pieces, and somebody's careless, careless act caused this."

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Aretta Gallegos' daughter, Brianna Mullins, also died last year in April after a fentanyl poisoning. Mullins was 25 years old and a mom.

"She thought she was taking a Percocet," said Gallegos. "As a mom losing my first born child, there's a missing piece, and it's really hard to try and stay happy."

The pain Howard and Gallegos feel is becoming more ordinary for Colorado families, which is why both agreed to speak on a panel at the summit along with several others. Howard and Gallegos felt that prior to the panel, many of those in law enforcement only saw their loved ones as a number, an overdose.

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Both are hoping to remove the stigma surrounding the drug, which is why they want officers and the community to see these deaths as poisonings, not overdoses. The 17th Judicial District Attorney Brian Mason agrees. He said it was critical for law enforcement to hear firsthand from families who've been impacted by the drug.

"I think there has been a real tendency, before law enforcement fully understood the fentanyl crisis, to assume that these were just overdose deaths," Mason told CBS4. "What we needed to learn from these families, is that these are poisonings."

These poisonings continue to hurt families like Howards and Gallegos.

"One pill can kill. Nothing is safe," Gallegos said.

The two hope their stories will bring more compassion and education on a drug plaguing Coloradans.

"It doesn't discriminate," added Howard. "And the more that you educate yourself the safer you will be and the communities will be."

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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