Many Colorado residents, and in particular residents of Denver, engage in some of the heaviest substance abuse in the country. In fact, in 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ranked Colorado as number one for having the most users of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol and opioid pain killers.
Unfortunately, drug abuse is often fatal in Colorado. In 2016, almost 1000 people succumbed to drug abuse in the state, and over 800 people died due to alcohol abuse. More people died from substance abuse that year than in accidents and car crashes.
The substance abuse problem in Denver is not improving. Fatal overdoses increased statewide from 2001 to 2014. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), twelve counties, including Denver, account for the worst drug-related fatalities in the United States.
What Is Heroin?
Illegal in the United States since 1924, heroin is a drug that is made from the opium poppy. This plant is grown in Mexico, South America, and Asia.
Using heroin for an extended period of time can cause health issues such as:
- Skin infections
- Collapsed veins
- Liver disease
- Kidney failure
Heroin is a very difficult drug to stop using once you are addicted. The withdrawal symptoms can cause a person to relapse even when they appear to be on the journey to recovery.
Heroin And Denver – A Growing Epidemic
The increase of opioid use in Denver, such as heroin, is one of the reasons for the drug crisis that is affecting the state. Opioid addiction is not only prevalent in rural counties, but it is common in urban counties as well.
The rise of heroin-related deaths in Denver can be directly attributed to the ease of acquiring the drug. Despite what many people believe, not all heroin users are life long drug addicts. Many people begin using heroin when they no longer have access to once legally prescribed opioid medications.
As these prescription medications become harder to obtain, legally and illegally, former opioid users resort to heroin. It is less expensive and can be easily purchased on the streets of Denver. The abundance of the drug is due to the inroads cartels have created throughout the state.
Heroin Deaths In Denver
According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, heroin-related deaths have increased 933 percent in Denver since 2002. This rise is steeper than the increase in heroin deaths across the state. As a whole, the state of Colorado has seen a 750 percent increase in heroin-related deaths since 2002. The only difference is that the state’s percentage continues to escalate while heroin deaths in Denver have seemed to plateau.
In 2001, there were zero related heroin deaths in Denver and only 23 heroin deaths in the state during the same year. These statistics were actually repeated in 2004, and fatality percentages remained in the single digits over the next four years.
However, between 2007 & 2009, heroin deaths in Denver were listed as follows:
12 heroin deaths in 2007
16 heroin deaths in 2008
32 heroin deaths in 2009
Even though some of the data was moderated during this time, the heroin death total for Denver was 35 in 2014. The totals have remained over 30 ever since.
If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it would be that not only have the totals plateaued over the last few years, they have also slightly receded.
The Impact Of The Legalization Of Marijuana On Heroin Use In Denver
There is an old saying that states ‘marijuana is a gateway drug’. However, the residents of Denver would most likely disagree.
Opioid-related deaths have decreased by almost 7% since marijuana was legalized in the state. Researchers cited this in a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The 7% reduction translated to a reversal of the heroin-related death trend that began in the early 2000s.
The use of marijuana as an alternative or a gateway to heroin use has been discussed many times. The discussions have increased as more states are legalizing marijuana for recreational and/or medicinal purposes, and while the Trump Administration is fighting the idea that marijuana is an effective alternative medication.
The University of Michigan published a study that concluded medical marijuana can be beneficial to heroin users. The study found that chronic pain sufferers who chose to use medical marijuana reduced their opioid use by 64 percent.
On the other hand, the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force have released annual reports stating that heroin-related hospitalizations have increased by 40 percent between 2011 and 2015. Denver and other counties in the state have started using the proceeds from marijuana sales to open and operate substance abuse treatment programs across the state.
Heroin Addiction Treatment In Denver
As previously mentioned, the state has started to use some of the revenue from marijuana sales for opening addiction treatment centers in Denver. What are some other ways the state is stepping in to handle this crisis?
Community-based organizations and state agencies are working together to target the areas that have been the hardest hit by this crisis. These groups have made resources available such as:
- Awareness Campaigns
- Outreach programs
- Prevention methods
The state is set to receive over $30 million dollars in federal grant money to address the issue. These funds will be allocated to a number of initiatives throughout Denver including Lift the Label. This is a program that has been rolled out in Denver hospitals. It provides education to patients about opiod prescriptions while also working to reduce the number of prescriptions that are given to patients.
For those who choose not to go through an addiction treatment program, the city has also rolled out mobile health units. These professionals will educate heroin users on how to properly use naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication.
The statistics are alarming and they show that heroin addiction destroys lives. The city of Denver is fighting hard to preserve human life through various programs, treatment centers and other initiatives.