DENVER – Premature deaths in the U.S. have risen steadily over the past couple of years, and drug overdoses surpassed injuries as the main reason for the early deaths for the first time since tracking began.
The 2017 County Health Rankings report, compiled by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that premature death rates (people dying before age 75) rose by a full 1 percent – amounting to 39,700 people who died early compared to 2014.
That trend rose significantly year-over-year, despite slight increases starting in 2012 after a steep decline over the years prior.
Native and black Americans continued to see the highest rates of premature death – especially those living in rural communities.
But a sharp spike in drug overdoses was seen in 2015, which correlated with a massive rise in heroin and opioid abuse across the country. The largest increases of overdose deaths were seen in suburban areas.
“Large suburban metro counties went from having the lowest to the highest rate of premature death due to drug overdose within the past decade,” the report says.
White people saw the highest rates of premature death due to drug overdoses, followed closely by Native Americans.
Colorado has seen a 756 percent rise in deadly heroin overdoses from 2001 to 2016, and Denver’s rate has been even higher, at 933 percent over the same time period. In 2002, Denver saw just three heroin overdoses, but there were 31 in the city last year.
The report also shows disparity between Colorado’s rural and urban counties in regards to their premature death rates and health factors.
Douglas, Broomfield and Boulder counties were the healthiest, according to the report, while Crowley, Huerfano and Costilla counties rounded out the bottom three.
The latter had a combined population of 16,058 as of the 2010 Census, which represents just 5.6 percent of the total population of Douglas County alone.
To read the full report, click here.