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The reality of opioid overdose in Denver

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Posted at 2:43 PM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 23:41:49-04

DENVER - A graphic image of an opioid overdose in Ohio has sparked a nationwide discussion on social media. 

The image captured by police shows two unconscious adults in the front seat of a vehicle while a 4-year-old boy looks on from the back seat. The two adults were treated and booked into an East Liverpool, Ohio jail.

Opioid overdoses are a growing problem in Denver. A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Colorado Health Institute shows drug-related deaths have increased in every Colorado county except one from 2002 to 2014.

Twelve Colorado counties have an overdose rate of more than 20 for every 100,000 residents, making them among some of the highest in the nation. Denver, Adams and Pueblo counties were among the worst.

According to stoptheclock.org, there is a fatal overdose in Colorado every 9 hours and 24 minutes.

Lisa Raville, who works for the Harm Reduction Center, told Denver7 Friday that there are more than 5,000 injectors in Denver and more than 6,500 injectors in surrounding communities. However, Raville believes those numbers are actually much higher.

The city says police have made 128 arrests in recent months at city parks -- the majority of them drug-related. A spokesperson said approximately 3,500 needles have been collected in the same time period as the city and drug treatment specialists work to address a growing heroin epidemic.

Raville says there are four main reasons why overdoses occur:

Quality of the drug: Raville says black-tar heroin is the type that is most readily available in Colorado. She says this type of heroin has to be injected; it cannot be snorted or smoked. It is often mixed with other unknown chemicals or substances, making it even more dangerous.

Alcohol and meth: Heroin users often consume the two drugs, increasing the likelihood of an overdose.

Getting clean: Reusing after abstaining from the drug often leads to an overdose, because users have built up a lower tolerance for the drug.

Using alone: Users who consume the drug alone will increase their likelihood of an overdose considerably.

Raville says her group was instrumental in getting legislation passed that put naloxone, an opioid overdose treatment, in the hands of more people.

Naloxone is now available in most Colorado pharmacies, and law enforcement officers often carry a dose as well.

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