What Opioids Are Killing the Most People in Denver and Colorado

Opioids such as Oxycontin continue to be abused in Denver and Colorado.
Opioids such as Oxycontin continue to be abused in Denver and Colorado.
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In a recent post, we noted that heroin deaths in Denver went up 933 percent over fourteen years, and the heroin fatality numbers for Colorado as a whole are nearly as shocking, with a 756 percent rise since 2001 and a recent rate of increase that outpaces the one in the Mile High City.

But considerably more people in Denver and Colorado are dying each year from other opioids — including methadone and prescription drugs such as OxyContin and fentanyl — than perish as a result of heroin use. And while the upticks in fatalities isn't as sharp as the ones related to heroin, they're still substantial. In Colorado, deaths from opioids other than heroin are up 128 percent from fifteen years ago, while Denver's fatality total has risen by 372 percent.

As in our previous piece, the statistics shared here were provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment under the auspices of Kirk Bol, manager of the agency's registries and vital-statistics branch, as well as chair of its internal review board. He notes that the category "Any opioid analgesic" is broken into three main subcategories: "Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesics," which includes drugs with the "oxy" prefix, as well as hydrocodone, codeine and the like; "Synthetic opioid analgesic," comprising fully synthetic drugs such as fentanyl; and methadone.

In 2001, the first year for which the CDPHE provided data, eleven people in Denver and 118 people statewide died from opioid analgesics in these three categories combined. Compare that with 2016, for which provisional numbers are available; final stats should be out later in the springtime. The current opioid-death numbers for last year are 269 for Colorado and 52 in Denver.

Hydrocodone is another popular opioid.
Hydrocodone is another popular opioid.
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Each of these totals is higher than the 2016 provisional figures for heroin: 197 for Colorado, 31 for Denver.

Bol points out that "there's been some leveling off in our opioid deaths over the past couple of years." The Colorado opioid-analgesic-death numbers peaked in 2014, with 338 fatalities — meaning that the 2016 sum is 69 deaths lower. That same year, 65 people died from opioid-analgesic-related causes in Denver, thirteen more than the 2016 provisional number.

The decline over the past three years may be the result of what Bol characterizes as a crackdown on opioid painkiller abuse. Some theorize that these efforts may have pushed more people to heroin, resulting in the disturbing casualty figures for that narcotic enumerated above.

Also troubling is the data for methadone. The substance is often used as a replacement for heroin in addiction treatment, but it can be deadly in its own right. Last year, provisionally, 52 people in Colorado and ten in Denver died with methadone in their system.

The increasing abuse of fentanyl and other synthetic opioid analgesics stands out, too. In 2001, nineteen deaths from such drugs took place in Colorado, with none in Denver. During 2016, the deaths of ten Denverites and 55 Coloradans have been linked to these substances.

Figures for the past fifteen years are on view below. You'll notice that the sum of the three subcategories sometimes exceeds the combined any-opioid-analgesic number. The reason, Bol explains, is that some people had more than one of the drugs in their system when they died.

Methadone is used to help heroin users kick the habit, but it, too, can have fatal consequences.EXPAND
Methadone is used to help heroin users kick the habit, but it, too, can have fatal consequences.
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2001

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 118
Denver — 11

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 91
Denver — 6

Methadone

Colorado — 19
Denver — 4

 Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 19
Denver — 0

2002

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 119
Denver — 15

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 70
Denver — 8

Methadone

Colorado — 27
Denver — 5

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 28
Denver — 0

2003

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 118
Denver — 22

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 72
Denver — 9

Methadone

Colorado — 30
Denver — 10

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 22
Denver — 4

2004

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 138
Denver — 16

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 80
Denver — 8

Methadone

Colorado — 40
Denver — 8

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 22
Denver — 0

2005

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 179
Denver — 25

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 104
Denver — 11

Methadone

Colorado — 54
Denver — 13

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 35
Denver — 4

2006

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 201
Denver — 32

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 123
Denver — 17

Methadone

Colorado — 61
Denver — 15

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 26
Denver — 3

2007

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 269
Denver — 66

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 181
Denver — 54

Methadone

Colorado — 58
Denver — 11

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 44
Denver — 7

2008

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 246
Denver — 63

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 175
Denver — 47

Methadone

Colorado — 48
Denver — 15

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 38
Denver — 7

2009

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 279
Denver — 73

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 171
Denver — 49

Methadone

Colorado — 56
Denver — 13

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 67
Denver — 16

2010

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 227
Denver — 40

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 136
Denver — 26

Methadone

Colorado — 48
Denver — 10

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 44
Denver — 7

2011

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 304
Denver — 59

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 196
Denver — 39

Methadone

Colorado — 60
Denver — 15

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 75
Denver — 11

2012

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 295
Denver — 43

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 223
Denver — 32

Methadone

Colorado — 43
Denver — 7

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 51
Denver — 6

2013

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 295
Denver — 46

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 218
Denver — 37

Methadone

Colorado — 41
Denver — 6

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 67
Denver — 12

2014

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 338
Denver — 65

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 249
Denver — 54

Methadone

Colorado — 48
Denver — 9

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 78
Denver — 10

2015

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 329
Denver — 52

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 259
Denver — 41

Methadone

Colorado — 34
Denver — 8

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 65
Denver — 9

2016 (provisional)

Any opioid analgesic (natural, synthetic, methadone, et. al.)

Colorado — 269
Denver — 52

Natural and semi-synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 188
Denver — 42

Methadone

Colorado — 51
Denver — 10

Synthetic opioid analgesic

Colorado — 55
Denver — 10


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