Denver, CO

Opinion: ‘Blues’ killing Denver homeless, formerly homeless people

David Heitz
Photo byDrug Enforcement Administration

An epidemic making its way through the unhoused and formerly unhoused communities is wiping people out. The culprit is “the Blues.”

Not depression. Blue pills cut with deadly fentanyl have become all the rage in my building, Fusion Studios. Some people purchase meth with shavings of “blues” mixed in.

People in my building, Fusion Studios, die of overdose rather regularly. Word on the street is that they’re dying in other communities for the formerly unhoused, too.

Last month, two people died on my floor two days apart.

It’s creepy to me that more is not being done to rehabilitate people who live in these communities. Instead, they hand out naloxone, the opioid antidote, to residents suspected of abusing drugs. They also passed out fentanyl testing strips.

Year after year, statistics show that most homeless people who die in Denver do so by overdosing. According to statistics provided by Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, the Denver medical examiner’s office determined half of more than 170 homeless deaths in the city in 2022 were by overdose.

“The Coalition believes this is largely due to the increased presence of fentanyl in Denver in recent years, especially when the user is not aware of fentanyl contamination in the drug they are consuming,” the Coalition explains in its “We Will Remember” 2022 death review. “The manner of death in overdose cases was generally categorized as accidents.”

Overdose deaths occur in spurts

It is common for the deaths to occur in spurts. Word gets out that somebody has some powerful stuff, and everyone wants to try it. That’s how one addiction counselor explained it to me.

The report says the percentage of homeless people dying of overdose in 2022 leaped to almost 51 % from 45 % in 2021. “Among the overdose deaths, fentanyl, a potent form of synthetic opioid that has become ubiquitous in recent years, was a factor in the overdose in 47 of the 95 deaths,” according to the report. “Methamphetamine was a factor in 51 of the 95 overdose deaths, though many of these deaths involved both substances.”

According to the Coalition’s report, only one in five deaths in homeless housing comes from overdose. But the overall percentage of overdose deaths among the unhoused has grown to half from roughly one-third in 2019.

Blues are everywhere at Fusion. People will ask you if you want to buy a blue when you’re walking in and out of the front door.
Photo byMohammad Majid/Unsplash

Several residents smoke the blue pills ground up on aluminum foil. It’s a ritual repeated in big cities across the west, including Los Angeles and Portland. Those cities also have “blues” epidemics.

Epidemics in Los Angeles, Portland

The Associated Press reported on the epidemic in Los Angeles. “When Brandice Josey, another homeless addict, bent down and blew a puff of fentanyl smoke his way in an act of charity, (Ryan) Smith sat up and slowly opened his lip to inhale the vapor as if it was the cure to his problems. Smith, wearing a grimy yellow T-shirt that said ‘Good Vibes Only,’ reclined on his backpack and dozed the rest of the afternoon on the asphalt, unperturbed by the stench of rotting food and human waste that permeated the air.”

In Portland, the Tribune also wrote about a homeless person’s addiction to blues. "My dad introduced me to heroin and meth 12 years ago," the Tribune quoted Chris Bennett as saying. “"The only way of living under the influence is to live in a tent not paying rent. Because all of your money goes towards filling that gap, every day.”

Multonah County, where Portland is located, issued a warning two years ago not to take any pills sold on the street. “People should assume that any pill sold on the street contains fentanyl, no matter how authentic it might look,” said Regional Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “Taking any pill laced with fentanyl can be fatal.”
Photo byPartnership to End Addiction

Blues get their name from their color and “M30” stamped on the pills. They are made to look like prescription oxycodone. “Fentanyl can make a person stop breathing and counterfeit pills are especially dangerous because the amount of fentanyl varies from pill to pill, even in the same batch,” according to Multonah County. “Just two milligrams of fentanyl — the weight of a mosquito—in a pill could mean death. Even people who have a high tolerance for opioids face an increased risk of death.”

Addiction treatment needed

To me, when someone goes into permanent supportive housing everything possible should be done to discourage drug use on site. It almost feels like the deaths are being encouraged when the response to overdose in a community is to hand out Narcan.

People living in homeless housing should expect addiction treatment. To not offer it robs residents of a better life. Colorado Coalition for the Homeless wants to make addiction treatment more accessible to its residents, according to the death review.

For the homeless, playing with the blues often means it’s time for “Taps.” Color the ones who get sober as wise beyond their circumstances.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here. You can email me news releases and story ideas at

Denver, CO

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