Overdose maps show progression of the opioid crisis across Colorado Springs 

Opioid deaths creep into suburbs

Opioids killed 102 people last year in El Paso County, branching into all parts of the community.

According to a map generated by the El Paso County Coroner’s Office, the long-standing death hotspot around South Nevada Avenue and Interstate 25 — near the Springs Rescue Mission — has shifted north to the intersection of Platte and Nevada avenues.

“I think it may be due to the effective urban renewal efforts to clean up that southern Nevada corridor, which has pushed the homeless and at-risk population north towards downtown and into the city parks and green space areas,” says Deputy Coroner Leon Kelly, who created the maps.

The 2017 map also shows a new pocket of drug deaths in the Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard area.
The maps, which date back five years, are based on locations where people died from drug overdoses as well as sites from which people were taken by ambulance to hospitals where they died. No hospital locations are represented. The maps include all opioid deaths, whether by accidental overdose or suicide, and whether the drugs were obtained legally or illegally. The numbers include deaths from all opioids, including heroin, oxycodone and others.

The release of the 2017 map comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 72,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses last year from cocaine, heroin, oxycodone and hydrocodone, and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl. On Aug. 16, President Donald Trump asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to file a federal lawsuit against suppliers and manufacturers of opioids, media reported. (El Paso County commissioners have declined to join more than 600 counties, cities, Native American tribes, labor unions and states in a federal lawsuit blaming Big Pharma for the opioid crisis.)

Kelly’s maps show that deaths used to be focused in the Circle Drive and Platte Avenue area five years ago, when 66 people died of opioid overdoses. Last year, although 18 fewer people died than in 2016, opioids claimed victims in nearly every sector of the city, except the extreme north.

“You see cells intensified along the east part of town,” Kelly says, “and now you’re seeing them up in the truly suburban areas, along Woodmen Road.”

The geographic shifts, he says, were reinforced by local law enforcement officials, who told him drug busts and ambulance runs for overdoses in the Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard area have risen. The Metro Vice Narcotics and Intelligence unit couldn’t be reached for comment by the Indy’s press time.

Drugs responsible for those deaths also have changed, Kelly says. Five years ago, most opioid deaths here involved prescription drugs. But last year, most deaths were caused by predominantly illicit drugs, such as heroin and heroin in combination with other drugs, particularly methamphetamine, Kelly says. In fact, 29 deaths, nearly a third, were caused by the heroin/meth combination.
“From a public health standpoint, the movement over the last several years is to reduce prescription opiates on the street,” Kelly says. But when people can’t get legal drugs, “The demand then shifts to heroin,” he says.

As opioids continue to take their toll, does the community have adequate resources to treat addiction?

“That’s the question that is on everybody’s mind,” says Dr. Robin Johnson, El Paso County Public Health’s medical director. “I think we’re well under what we need, as far as resources go.” But the Coalition for Prevention, Addiction Education, and Recovery, a group of local providers, has acute awareness of the need and is working “to step up that game.”

For example, she says local universities hope to boost numbers of nurses and social workers who specialize in substance abuse disorders; other goals include developing short-term detox and longer-term recovery facilities, including in-patient treatment, and reducing barriers to treatment.

“Recovery and addiction are very complicated,” she says.

For more information, go to the Colorado Consortium’s site at corxconsortium.org.


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