Colorado sees record overdose deaths in 2020, 37% increase over previous year

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DENVER (KDVR) — Drug overdoses are at an all-time high, and Colorado struggles more than others with the rise of substance abuse.

Recently released provision drug overdose data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention shows the United States had over 90,000 overdose deaths in 2020 – a nearly 30% increase from the year before.

Colorado’s 12-month total ending December 2020 was 37.5% higher than the total ending December 2019. The year before the pandemic began, Colorado had 1,100 such deaths. By the end of the pandemic calendar year, that grew to just over 1,500.

There are health and public safety concerns tied to substance abuse and drug overdoses, but they are both hard to quantify and less important than other factors. Experts say the biggest reason Coloradans should care is pure altruism.

“The main concern for all of us is that our neighbors are dying from a treatable and preventable illness,” said Dr. Steve Delisi, Medical Director for Professional Education and Continuum Solutions with Hazelden Betty Ford. “Although it might not be directly impacting you now, we’re talking about 21 million Americans suffering from a substance use disorder each and every year.”

With roughly one in 10 Americans in the throes of some kind of addiction, Delisi banks on most people knowing one anyway.

“They are the family living right next door to you,” he said. “Most communities or families, if they’re not directly affected, they know someone who is a close friend or acquaintance that is affected.”

In Colorado, there are more friends and acquaintances now than just a year ago.

While the Centennial State is still in the middle of the pack compared to other states, It ranks 25th for the number of 2020 overdoses and 30th for the rate of overdoses per 100,000, the increase here in 2020 was the 13th highest.

The state’s 12-month overdose total started spiking at the beginning of 2020, breaking four years of relatively level numbers.

In the year ending January 2015, there were only 923 overdose deaths.

According to Delisi, Colorado’s location, in part, makes the numbers what they are.

“I think that it goes back to how much of the supply has that illicit fentanyl,” he said. “States and communities and counties that had a greater increase, that tracks along major interstate highways, and the major cities in Colorado have that access.”

As one of the states with tighter COVID controls last year, Delisi said the disruptions didn’t help either.

“The other piece is how quickly and how well community and state agencies were able to mobilize remote services,” Delisi said. “Any delay in that is being seen across the nation in these numbers.”

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