The Denver Post

Mesa County deaths are higher than state average, study says

- By Joella Baumann

Coloradans along the Western Slope are dying from drug-related overdoses at a higher rate than the average in the state and the nation, but authoritie­s say they haven’t seen the same spike in the number of cases as elsewhere.

Mesa County coroner Dave Havlik compiled data for Mesa County and compared those numbers to a nationwide study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 2015. He noted that the number for the county remained relatively similar throughout an almost eight-year period of study. He released the results on Monday.

Havlik said he wanted to find out whether Mesa County was experienci­ng an alarming increase in drug-related deaths.

The data was compiled from 2010 to Sept. 30, and the number of opioid-related deaths have ranged from a low of eight cases in 2014 to a high of 22 in multiple years throughout that time. Mesa County averages 11.9 deaths per 100,000 people, while the state average in 2015 was 8.7 deaths, and across the U.S. the average was 10.4 deaths.

“Unlike other places in the country seeing extraordin­ary jumps like West Virginia, we haven’t seen that here in the Mesa,” Havlik said. “At least not in the past eight years. We’re slightly higher than the Colorado and U.S. average, but certainly not like you would see in other states where the numbers are way higher.”

“Mesa County certainly has its drug problems. I would say it hasn’t reached epidemic proportion­s yet here in the Mesa or in Colorado.”

Dave Havlik, Mesa County coroner

The report said states such as West Virginia and Ohio have seen a dramatic increase, with opioid-related deaths per 100,000 people averaging 36 and 24, respective­ly. That was more than double the rate in both Mesa County and Colorado.

Overdose deaths from just one kind of opioid painkiller outnumbere­d all homicides in Colorado in 2015, according to a separate study done by the state’s Health Department. It shows that drug overdoses are beginning to surpass other causes of death in Colorado.

Havlik noted that the U.S. overdose death rate increased by 16 percent in 2015 from the preceding year, but he said the numbers in Colorado and the Western Slope aren’t quite as alarming.

“Any drug-related deaths are not good, and Mesa County certainly has its drug problems,” he said. “I would say it hasn’t reached epidemic proportion­s yet here in the Mesa or in Colorado.”

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