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.
Counties With the Highest Numbers of Fatal Overdoses, 2016
1. El Paso County
2. Denver County
3. Adams County
4. Jefferson County
5. Arapahoe County
6. Pueblo County
7. Larimer County
8. Weld County
9. Boulder County
10. Douglas County
Top 10 Overdose Death Rates by County, 2016
1. Huerfano County
2. Rio Blanco County
3. Las Animas County
4. Montezuma County
5. Rio Grande County
6. Conejos County
7. Fremont County
8. Pueblo County
9. Logan County
10. Routt County
Click to read "Death by Drugs: Colorado at Record High."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.