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Overdoses killed more Coloradans in 2017 than any year on record, and opioids aren't the only issue

Preliminary data released in Vital Stats Program
Overdoses killed more Coloradans in 2017 than any year on record, and opioids aren't the only issue
Posted at 11:03 AM, Apr 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-05 13:03:53-04

DENVER – More people in Colorado died of drug overdoses in 2017 than any other year in history, according to new preliminary data from the state’s Vital Statistics Program.

And while opioids continue to be the main contributor to the rising death rate, methamphetamine overdoses surged in 2017.

The data, which is not yet final, shows that 959 people died of drug overdoses in 2017. Both the total number of deaths and the age-adjusted rate of 16.7 deaths per 100,000 people were the highest in state history.

The previous high had come in 2016, when 912 people died of overdoses – a rate of 16 deaths per 100,000 people.

The number of deaths caused by opioids in 2017 also rose again to the highest levels in state history after a hopeful, though slight, downturn in 2016. Preliminary data shows 357 people died of opioid overdoses – up from the 300 who died in 2016 and from the previous record high of 338, which happened in 2014.

And though the number of deadly heroin overdoses was down slightly from 2016 – 213 in 2017, compared to 228 in 2016 – the number of methamphetamine overdoses exploded this year, and fentanyl overdoses were at their highest-ever levels as well.

Seventy-four people died of overdoses related to fentanyl – up from 49 people in 2016 and from the state record high of 56 people in 2014.

And deadly meth overdoses were up nearly 43 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to the preliminary data. A record-high 280 people died of methamphetamine overdoses in 2017 – up from 196 in 2016.

The number of deaths tied to certain drugs could also be even higher than reported, as 137 of the deaths did not specify which drug caused the overdose.

But the data shows that regardless, drug overdose deaths in Colorado have nearly tripled since 1999, when only 345 overdose deaths were recorded in the state. That is in line with national statistics that show U.S. overdose deaths in 2016 reached record highs.

El Paso and Denver counties saw the highest number of overdose deaths, according to the preliminary data, though age-adjusted rates were much higher in regions with fewer people. Many of the state’s smaller counties have age-adjusted rates of more than 20 per 100,000 people – the highest classification for overdose deaths.