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Fentanyl deaths in Colorado start to plateau

The state's health department said one of the reasons for the decrease in fentanyl deaths may be the availability of free naloxone.

COLORADO, USA — Colorado's state health department said orders for free doses of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone tripled in one year. The agency thinks the program is one of the reasons fentanyl deaths are finally plateauing.

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) saw the number of people dying from fentanyl overdoses go up starting in 2017 – 81 people died that year. In 2021 - four years later - the drug stole 912 lives. 

"When this first happened people were not aware of what fentanyl was, what it was doing in the drug supply, and why it was such an issue," said Andres Guerrero, overdose prevention unit manager at CDPHE. "The pills looked like legitimate prescription pills so most of those were most likely accidental."

Guerrero manages the group at CDPHE that tries to save people who overdose. For the first time last year fentanyl deaths in Colorado plateaued after the spike began in 2017. 

Guerrero thinks one reason may be because more people are asking his office for naloxone. 

"The number of doses distributed more than tripled since the last fiscal year," he said. 

Lately they've seen more orders for free doses from schools. 

"We distributed 8,448 doses to 80 school settings. That is compared to three schools signed up during the year previous," he said. 

Colorado is seeing the rate of fentanyl deaths slow down, but health officials don't know if that plateau will continue. 

"This is the issue with the illicit drug supply. We don't know what exactly is in the drugs," said Guerrero.

Colorado saw drug overdose deaths due to any drug go up gradually for several years. It wasn't until 2022 that the state saw a noticeable drop. Fentanyl is contributing to about half of drug overdose deaths.


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