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Mesa County report: Number of drug-related deaths slashed in half from 2017 to 2018

Deaths remain above national, state rate
Posted at 1:00 PM, Jan 02, 2019

MESA COUNTY, Colo. — After a spike in 2017, the number of people who died due to drugs in Mesa County decreased by about 50 percent in 2018.

The Mesa County Coroner’s Office and the Pathology Group, P.C. released a new report Wednesday morning detailing the numbers and patterns surrounding drug-related deaths in the county from 2010 to 2018.

These deaths were caused by various sorts of drugs, including opioids, methamphetamine, cocaine, benzodiazepines, tricyclic antidepressants, antipsychotics and other prescription-type drugs, according to the report. In some cases, more than one drug was used and contributed to the person's death.

In that nine-year time frame, the total number of people who died from drugs have bounced up and down:

  • 2010: 25
  • 2011: 32
  • 2012: 29
  • 2013: 20
  • 2014: 19
  • 2015: 40
  • 2016: 28
  • 2017: 44
  • 2018: 21

Those totals reflect the deaths where drugs were either the sole reason or a contributing factor to the person’s death. According to the report, 80 to 90 percent of the people who died were white, and the male to female ratio was 1.2 to 1. The average age of a person who died from drugs in this time frame was 43 years.

A large percentage — 60 to 80 percent — of the drug-related deaths in Mesa County over the nine-year period were accidental.

The rate of these deaths in the county was slightly higher than the reported rated for the country and state of Colorado.

Here’s a breakdown of the 2010-2018 deaths in Mesa County, categorized by drug:

Opioid-related deaths

Opioids were responsible for the most deaths in Mesa County between 2010 and 2018. Following the up-and-down pattern of overall drug-related deaths, opioid-related deaths varied each year. In 2017, 32 people died from opium, which was a high for this time frame. In 2018, that number dropped down to 13.

Fentanyl- and methadone-related deaths

On average, one to seven people died from fentanyl each year in Mesa County from 2010 to 2018. Zero to five people died of methadone in that same time frame.

While 2018 had a decrease in drug- and opioid-related deaths compared to the previous year, it also brought the highest number of fentanyl-related deaths, with seven attributed to that drug.

In 2018, there was only one death due to fentanyl analog. It also marked the first time when fentanyl analog was identified as a contributing aspect of a death in the county, according to the report.

Methamphetamine-related deaths

From 2010 to 2016, the coroner’s office recorded that between one and nine people died from methamphetamine each year. That number jumped up in 2017 to 13 total deaths.

In 2018, matching the overall drug-related death pattern, the death count decreased to seven.

Cocaine-related deaths

Cocaine is relatively uncommon in deaths in Mesa County, according to the report.

Four people succumbed to a cocaine-related death in 2012. That dropped to three deaths in 2017 and one in 2018.

Benzodiazepines-related deaths

Benzodiazepines are a commonly used prescription drug and includes diazepam, alprazolam and clonazepam. These drugs were responsible for one to four people’s deaths in Mesa County each year between 2010 and 2018. That number has not changed significantly over the past few years, the coroner’s office said.

Marijuana-related deaths

While marijuana has not been proven to cause death, it is a relatively common drug and when mixed with other drugs, can have fatal consequences. Twenty-five percent of drug-related deaths over the past eight years in Mesa County involved marijuana intermixed with another drug.

Read the full report on the Mesa County website here.