Denver seeks solutions as drug overdose skyrockets

There were a total of 1,477 drug overdoses in the state in 2020. The annual average over the past five years was 970.

COLORADO, United States – The number of overdoses in Colorado has increased dramatically during the pandemic, and numbers in Denver follow a similar trend in 2021.

According to Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), there was a total of 1,477 drug overdoses in the state last year. The annual average over the past five years was 970.

Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE) has also seen an increase, from 225 total overdose deaths in 2019 to 370 in 2020.

Already this year in Denver, 111 people have died of overdoses.

“This has led to many sleepless nights from my perspective,” said Jeff Holliday, public health officer for DDPHE.

Holliday’s job is to analyze the numbers and find solutions. He thinks it’s hard to ignore that this increase came during a global pandemic.

“As people become more anxious and depressed, it’s not entirely surprising that some people self-medicate by using substances,” Holiday said.

RELATED: Under COVID Cover, Fentanyl and Isolation Fuel Escalate Overdose Crisis

Pandemic stressors associated with an increase in the presence of fentanyl, a highly lethal and addictive drug added to part of the illegal supply, have created skyrocketing numbers and concerns for the future.

Data indicates that 2020 was also a time of increased substance use in Colorado.

“I’m worried about what will happen in five, eight, ten years with all these people [who] for the first time abused a substance last year, ”said Robert Valuck, director of the Center for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention at the University of Colorado.

Valuck points to various studies that show that it can take years for people to eventually develop an addiction.

“I think there is an awareness, but we really have to put all we have into it,” said Valuck.

Two weeks ago, the City of Denver and the Denver Mental Health Center opened a first-ever Behavioral Health Solutions Center where people can go or be taken for help and temporary housing while crossing. a mental health or substance abuse crisis.

RELATED: New Denver Center Offers Alternative to Jail for People with Behavioral Seizures

The city is hoping new solutions like this, along with doubling down on programs that have worked in the past, will help bring the numbers down.

Denver Chief Medical Examiner Dr Jim Caruso has issued a standing order that DDPHE staff and Park Rangers can administer naloxone to reverse an opioid overdose.

DDPHE is also urging members of the public to educate themselves on the free administration of naloxone to help family members, friends or strangers who may need their help.

This training can take place in a city campervan called Wellness Winnie, which offers assistance and resources to underserved areas of the community.

“Substance Abuse Navigators are also available to co-respond with various municipal agencies (including DPD) to provide real-time assistance to people with addiction issues,” said DDPHE.

Along with those resources, Holliday hopes ending the pandemic can help create more options, forcing overdose and substance use numbers eventually to drop.

“Each of this makes a difference in recovering from the struggles we see when it comes to behavioral health care,” Holliday said.

RELATED: New center in Aurora provides safe space for recovery community

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