Unfortunately, Colorado has become the rule rather than the exception in the well-documented epidemic of prescription drug abuse, misuse and addiction throughout the United States since about 2010.
In fact, according to the University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy, more than 255,000 Colorado residents misuse prescription medications every year.
A story published June 5, 2017, in the New York Times stated that the first governmental account of nationwide drug deaths shows roughly 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016. Drug overdose deaths in 2016 exceeded those of the previous year by more than 10,000 – the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.
The swelling death count is likely the latest consequence of an escalating public health crisis stemming from opioid addiction.
Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50. Such deaths are now more common than alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call prescription drug overdose deaths one of the four most serious epidemics facing the nation.
More alarming has been the escalating number of opioid prescriptions written, and the number of opioid overdose deaths recorded across the state. In 2017, Colorado providers wrote 52.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons.
The average U.S. rate in the same year was 58.7 prescriptions per 100 persons. The rate of statewide overdose deaths involving opioid prescriptions rose from 3.4 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2010, to 5.1 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2017.
These numbers put Colorado among the top 10 states in the U.S. for prescription opioid abuse. Over a third of all reported drug-poisoning deaths in Colorado in 2017 involved a prescription opioid drug, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Management.
On average, at least one Coloradan dies every day due to a fatal prescription drug overdose. Almost 10 percent of fatal prescription drug overdoses occur in victims ages 18-25.
Since 2000, more than 10,500 Colorado residents have died via prescription drug overdoses. For a more localized perspective, that is roughly the entire population of Castle Pines in Douglas County, Glenwood Springs in Garfield County or Alamosa in Alamosa County.
To put those numbers in hyper-local terms, 10,500 overdose deaths exceeds the combined population of Bailey and Fairplay, and represents more than half of the population of Park County.