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Colorado Drug Overdose Deaths Top 900 Annually: Where the Crisis Is Worst

Eric Bolling Jr., son of former Fox News commentator Eric Bolling, died in Boulder County from an accidental overdose of heroin and fentanyl on September 8, 2017.
Eric Bolling Jr., son of former Fox News commentator Eric Bolling, died in Boulder County from an accidental overdose of heroin and fentanyl on September 8, 2017.
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In 2016, drugs killed 912 people in Colorado, nearly 300 more than the 627 who died in auto accidents here. Preliminary numbers from 2017 suggest that the total will rise for that year to 959, fueled largely by heroin and opioid overdoses in Denver and the Colorado Springs area, each of which suffered well over 100 fatalities the previous year, and a startling number of casualties in some of the state's least populous areas.

These are among the key takeaways from "Death by Drugs: Colorado at Record High," a new report from the Colorado Health Institute.

Heroin and opioid fatalities have climbed at a fearsome rate in recent years. According to figures provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, heroin deaths in Denver went up 933 percent over fourteen years, beginning in 2002. And the heroin-fatality numbers for Colorado as a whole are nearly as shocking, with a 756 percent rise from 2001 to 2016.

Other CDPHE stats through 2016 showed that deaths from opioids other than heroin were up 128 percent from fifteen years previous, while Denver's fatality total rose by 372 percent.

The overall numbers assembled by the Colorado Health Institute also show significant spikes. The 912 fatalities in 2016 translate to 16.1 drug overdose deaths for each 100,000 residents, an 83 percent jump from the 2001 rate of 8.8.

Granted, the 2016 death rate is only a little higher than those in Colorado during 2014 (15.7) and 2015 (15.6) — and it remains considerably lower than the national rate of 19.8 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 people. But that's hardly reassuring given the body counts in El Paso County, where 141 people lost their lives to fatal overdoses in 2016, and Denver County, site of 138 such deaths.

The numbers are lower in other counties, but because the population in them is, too, the fatality rates are actually higher than in more crowded places. A case in point is Huerfano County, where six people died from overdose in 2016 — but because there are fewer than 6,700 residents there, the death rate per 100,000 is a staggering 152.6.

Continue to see the ten Colorado counties with the highest number of fatal overdoses, followed by the top ten overdose death rates per county in the state.

A photo from our 2017 feature article "Inside Two CU Boulder Students' Struggle With Heroin Addiction."
Photo by Jackson Barnett

Counties With the Highest Numbers of Fatal Overdoses, 2016

1. El Paso County
Deaths: 141
Population: 690,207
Rate: 20.4

2. Denver County
Deaths: 138
Population: 693,292
Rate: 19.2

3. Adams County
Deaths: 92
Population: 497,673
Rate: 18.6

4. Jefferson County
Deaths: 91
Population: 571,711
Rate: 16.4

5. Arapahoe County
Deaths: 90
Population: 637,254
Rate: 13.8

6. Pueblo County
Deaths: 40
Population: 165,109
Rate: 27.7

7. Larimer County
Deaths: 39
Population: 338,663
Rate: 11.2

8. Weld County
Deaths: 38
Population: 294,397
Rate: 13.3

9. Boulder County
Deaths: 37
Population: 321,989
Rate: 11

10. Douglas County
Deaths: 33
Population: 328,330
Rate: 10

Mark Largay died from a fentanyl overdose on November 1, 2015, in Summit County.
Mark Largay died from a fentanyl overdose on November 1, 2015, in Summit County.
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Top 10 Overdose Death Rates by County, 2016

1. Huerfano County
Deaths: 6
Population: 6,642
Rate: 152.6

2. Rio Blanco County
Deaths: 3
Population: 6,497
Rate: 52.2

3. Las Animas County
Deaths: 8
Population: 14,082
Rate: 50.9

4. Montezuma County
Deaths: 10
Population: 26,906
Rate: 42.8

5. Rio Grande County
Deaths: 4
Population: 11,424
Rate: 38.5

6. Conejos County
Deaths: 3
Population: 8,039
Rate: 34.9

7. Fremont County
Deaths: 15
Population: 47,487
Rate: 30.2

8. Pueblo County
Deaths: 40
Population: 165,109
Rate: 27.7

9. Logan County
Deaths: 6
Population: 22,047
Rate: 24.5

10. Routt County
Deaths: 6
Population: 24,679
Rate: 23.2

Click to read "Death by Drugs: Colorado at Record High."

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