Eight Most Shocking Findings in Denver Opioid Report

Eight Most Shocking Findings in Denver Opioid Report
Photo by Jackson Barnett
Editor's note: Click to read the most recent posts in our ongoing opioid series, including "The Four Main Reasons People in Denver Overdose on Heroin," "Denver Homeless Shoot Meth in Winter So They Won't Freeze to Death," "'Every Bathroom in Our Community Will Continue to Be an Injection Site,'" "Heroin and Other Drug Use in Denver: The Brutal Numbers" and "Denver Grocers Limit Bathroom Access Over Injection Drug Use, Won't Admit It."

"Denver Needs Assessment on Opioid Use," a new report from Denver Public Health and Environment, is filled with revelations about the scope of a growing problem in the Mile High City. And plenty of them qualify as genuinely startling.

One reason the report feels more trenchant than many previous attempts to grapple with the issue is the input of actual opioid users. Thirty individuals were interviewed as part of the analysis, and while they skewed Caucasian and male (most identified as white, and 23 of the subjects were men), they represented an appropriately wide age range (twenty to sixty) and included users of multiple substances — although everyone who took part was injecting heroin.

Here are the facts and observations that stood out most to us, illustrated with graphics from the report, followed by the authors' recommendations and the document link.

Denver Public Health & Environment
Number 1: The 2017 fatal overdose cluster

In 2016, at least five clients of the Harm Reduction Action Center, Colorado's largest syringe exchange program, died of overdoses. But during a two-week period in January 2017, six HRAC clients lost their lives under the same circumstances.

Number 2: The OD-death count could easily have been higher

The increasing availability of Narcan, the commercial name for Naloxone, a substance that can reverse the effects of an overdose, has been a lifesaver in Denver. In 2016, the Harm Reduction Action Center reported that 187 client overdoses were reversed. That number rose substantially the following year. During the first ten months of 2017, overdose reversals were conducted for 234 HRAC clients.

Number 3: The 21st-century overdose death count in Colorado is well into five figures

From 2000 to 2015, the number of Coloradans to die of drug overdoses was 10,552, and it's continued to rise since then. Moreover, opioid-related overdoses tripled during that same period.

click to enlarge This graphic shows the various drugs used by the thirty opioid users interviewed for the report. - DENVER PUBLIC HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT
This graphic shows the various drugs used by the thirty opioid users interviewed for the report.
Denver Public Health & Environment
Number 4: The number of deaths in Denver is going up

In 2016, the Denver coroner's office reported 173 overdose casualties, with 103 involving opioids and fifty of them connected to heroin. The final total for last year is worse: 201 overdose fatalities, of which 110 had a tie to opioids.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts