DENVER — So far this year, 513 people in Colorado have died of a fentanyl-involved overdose, according to the state’s health department.
It’s likely the number of fatal fentanyl overdoses this year will come close to the levels seen over the past few years as the cheap and easily-accessible synthetic opioid remains the drug of choice for people dealing with addiction.
Illegal drug manufacturers also lace narcotics like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine with fentanyl to increase the profitable power of their product, causing people to unknowingly take fatal levels of the drug.
Numbers from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment show fentanyl continues to play a role in more than half of all fatal drug overdoses in the state.
2023 (so far):
513 fentanyl-involved overdoses
826 total drug overdoses
920 fentanyl-involved overdoses
1,799 total drug overdoses
912 fentanyl-involved overdoses
1,881 total drug overdoses
540 fentanyl-involved overdoses
1,477 total drug overdoses
Sam Bourdon, the Harm Reduction Grant Fund Manager for the state, said the greatest immediate impact to reduce fatalities is to make naloxone more widespread.
Naloxone, also known as Narcan, can immediately reverse an overdose before it turns fatal. The Food and Drug Administration cleared naloxone for over-the-counter purchase earlier this year.
"Everyone should know how to utilize it. Everyone should know how to access it, because you never know when someone in your life or even someone in your community may be needing that response,” Bourdon said.
On Thursday, Democratic U.S. Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Colorado shared the addiction story of her mother while announcing the introduction of a bill called the Hospitals As Naloxone Distribution Sites (HANDS) Act. The bill, if passed, would require Medicare, Medicaid and TRICARE to cover the life-saving medication for at-risk patients.
Pettersen said her mother became addicted to opioids after she was prescribed pain medications for back pain. The addiction led to heroin use, which then led to several overdoses on fentanyl, Pettersen said.
"This is a hard area to work in when it's so close. But I feel it's incumbent upon me to be a voice for the people who are always left behind,” Pettersen said while announcing her bill at Swedish Medical Center in Englewood.
The bill would also soften regulations so hospitals can immediately give naloxone to at-risk patients identified by doctors.
Pettersen said her mother had several near-death overdoses and did not have immediate access to naloxone. She’s now in her sixth year of recovery, Pettersen said.
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