Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Coroner's report: opioids still claiming dozens of lives

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 4:40 PM

click to enlarge El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly issues annual reports to help the community cope with patterns and trends. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly issues annual reports to help the community cope with patterns and trends.
Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly tells the Indy that his annual report is "like taking the 'vital signs' of our community."

"It informs our citizens, public health officials, media, and leaders of what is threatening the health and safety of our citizens and gives us focus and priority on what we can do better," he writes in an email.

Asked what the key takeaways from this report point out to us, he says:

1) Our increasing motor vehicle deaths and in particular those involving pedestrians who are often homeless who are struck by vehicles.

2) Our decreasing prescription opioid deaths highlighting progress by our medical community and public health officials.

3) Decreased teen suicide numbers showing progress on that very important front.

4) Large numbers (8) of infant deaths occurring in unsafe sleep environments which are 100% preventable.

——————-ORIGINAL POST 4:40 P.M. WEDNESDAY, JUNE 5, 2019—————————

Once again, dozens of people died from opioids in El Paso County last year, although the carnage slacked off from the prior year, according to a new report issued by County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly.

In 2017, 147 people died from drug-related accidental deaths, compared to 133 in 2018. Opioids claimed 78 lives last year, compared to 92 the year before. But fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid, is on the ascent, taking nine lives in 2018, whereas that drug was a factor in only five deaths in 2017.

More observations in Kelly's report:

• 12 percent of the medication used in overdose deaths was prescribed by the decedent's physician.
• 74 percent of the accidental drug deaths were male.
• 70 percent of those who died of drug-related deaths had a history of substance abuse or addiction.
• 23 percent had a known history of mental illness.
• 60 percent of the accidental opioid deaths were from heroin.

As for homicides, 56 people died by another's hand in 2018, compared to 42 in 2017; most — 41 — were killed with a firearm. Other causes were blunt force, sharp objects and restraint.

Firearms also were a factor in 80 of the 152 suicide deaths last year, the report shows.

A new feature of Kelly's report shines the spotlight on homeless deaths, which the Indy showcased in this report about Calvin Reeves' January 22 death at a city bus stop.

The 2018 report says 61 people died last year while homeless, which Kelly defined as sleeping on the streets, in a tent, vehicle or shelter, couch surfing or squatting, in a transitional living program or living temporarily in a motel. Of those who died, 82 percent were males, and their average age was 49. Drug intoxication led the list of causes, followed by being a pedestrian struck by a vehicle.

If there's a bright side, it might be found on page 18 where Kelly reports that some of the deaths he investigated translated to life for others. Twenty donors from El Paso County had 65 organs recovered for transplantation into others.

See how the report compares to last year's numbers by checking out our previous report here.

Also, we published maps Kelly devised showing how opioid deaths have infiltrated all sections of the city.

We've reached out to Kelly for comments about his latest report and will circle back when we hear from him.

Here's the latest report by Kelly:

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