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Overdose deaths rise in Colorado, with worse to potentially come amid pandemic

A record number of Coloradans died of drug overdoses in 2019, while deaths from the synthetic opioid fentanyl quadrupled in the last four years.

“Really now it's the point where it's doubling every year and that's not good,” Robert Valuck, executive director of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, told CPR. “Meth seems to be making a comeback,” he added.

The outlet reported that there were 220 fentanyl deaths in 2019, representing 20% of all overdose fatalities. Particularly in Denver, fentanyl overdoses were nearly three times their 2019 total in the first five months of 2020.

“We're seeing how hard it is to really bend the curve on this thing. I think that's the message,” Valuck said. “It's a very, very, very difficult thing to try to turn around.”

In total, 1,062 people died of overdoses last year compared with 1,012 in 2017 and 351 two decades ago.

Margaret Williams, a doctor at The Ohio State University, wrote last month that nationwide, COVID-19-related restrictions are also hindering access to treatment and likely exacerbating overdose problems during the pandemic.

Among young people, she explained, “The unintended consequences of social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak may be behind these increases. Boredom and loneliness can be triggers for addiction, and additional stressors such as job loss and/or decreased income can contribute to relapse of addictive disorders.”

Williams continued that people may now be more likely to be alone, minimizing the possibility that someone can call 9-1-1 or administer the overdose reversal drug naloxone to the user.

Those in need of assistance with their addiction may call the 24/7 National Drug Helpline at (844) 289-0879 or visit http://drughelpline.org.


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