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New report shows drastic across-the-board increases in Colorado's heroin use

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Posted at 5:12 PM, Apr 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-06 19:25:34-04

DENVER – A new report released Thursday that studies heroin use in Colorado shows a huge spike in heroin seizures and hepatitis C transmissions among young users in the state.

The report, “Heroin in Colorado,” was compiled by a wide array of public health, drug enforcement and other officials and prepared by the Heroin Response Work Group. It's the first of its kind in Colorado.

It is broken down into seizure and arrest data, overdose data, data on Naloxone use, disease transmission data, neonatal data, exposure calls and other treatment and user information.

The study covered the time period between 2011 and 2015, and saw jumps in most categories related to the illicit drug that has made a widespread comeback across the country that some have called an “epidemic.”

Among the key findings:

  • A total of 70 percent of users surveyed in the Denver Metro Treatment Client Survey say prescription painkillers “played a role” in their decision to use heroin.
  • 61 percent of those surveyed in the Denver survey said they had overdosed on heroin before. Of those people, the median number of overdoses they had experienced was three.
  • Heroin-related deaths in Colorado doubled from 2011 to 2015, from 79 deaths to 160 deaths.
  • Age-adjusted heroin overdose deaths increased by 93 percent over the same time period, and hospitalization rates jumped 41 percent.
  • Heroin-related emergency room visits doubled from 4.45 per 100,00 people in 2011 to 9.28 per 100,000 in 2014.
  • Colorado law enforcement agencies have seen a massive spike in heroin seizures. In 2011, there were 20, but there were 427 seizures in 2015 – a 2,035 percent increase. The amount of heroin seized jumped 1,562 percent from 2011 -2015, from 16.1 pounds to 268.7 pounds.
  • The number of heroin-related arrests jumped from 743 in 2011 to 4,575 in 2015 – an increase of 515 percent.
  • Reported new hepatitis C cases jumped from 379 cases in 2011 to 729 in 2015. The report attributed many of the new infections to needle-sharing among users.
  • The yearly average price for a gram of heroin in Denver has dropped significantly, which the report attributes to a greater supply. It was $255.20 per gram in 2012, jumped to $308 per gram in 2013, but has since plummeted to just $123.12 per gram in 2015.
  • At the same time, heroin purity levels in Denver dropped from 31.9 percent in 2012 to just 17.1 percent in 2015.
  • Age-adjusted overdose rates for heroin, opioids in general, and all drugs are higher in Colorado than the U.S. averages.
  • Pueblo County has the highest age-adjusted death rate due to heroin, and southern Colorado has higher rates than the rest of the state.

Some of the data was also released in January in the Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force’s 11th-annual report.

“Too many Colorado families have been hurt by the heroin epidemic,” said Lt. Gov. and Chief Operating Officer Donna Lynne. “This first-ever report provides the sobering statistics and serves as our call to action to do all we can to help our citizens avoid its use and provide support to those on the front lines of battling its misuse.”

“People are dying from opioid overdoses at an alarming rate across the country and here in Colorado,” said Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. “Every one of the people we lose to an overdose is somebody’s loved one and their addiction and subsequent death not only impacts them and their families, it affects our community as a whole. Colorado must be proactive in tackling this heroin crisis, and this report provides us with comprehensive data that can help us to focus our state’s resources where they are most needed. My office will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders to combat this growing issue.”

To read the full report, click here.

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