Sep 1, 2022 - News

Fentanyl once again fuels "exponential" spike in overdose deaths

Data: Denver Public Health & Environment; Tory Lysik/Axios

Denver drug overdose deaths surged for the second straight year — an "exponential" increase largely fueled by fentanyl, local health officials say.

  • Deaths related to opioids surged by 308% between 2019 and 2021, according to city data released Wednesday, which marked International Overdose Awareness Day.
  • At least 216 deaths in Denver have been linked to drugs so far this year, per data from the Office of the Medical Examiner.

State of play: Last September, the city started distributing free fentanyl test strips and the opiate overdose reversal drug Naloxone, commonly called Narcan, to residents who ask.

  • The initial rollout resulted in a backlog of orders amid high demand for the reversal drug — and need remains high with over 5,000 requests this year, health department spokesperson Amber Campbell tells Axios Denver.

What they're saying: After five people were found dead from fentanyl overdoses in Commerce City this past February — marking the nation's largest single fentanyl overdose event — "demand for our kits exploded," Campbell said.

  • "It took us some time to get caught up, but now orders are shipping within one to two weeks of being received," she added.

What's next: The city is hosting the Denver Fentanyl Action Summit from Sept. 12-13 for public health professionals across a variety of fields to share strategies for managing the opioid epidemic.

The big picture: Over 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2021 — more than any other year on record, per the National Center for Health Statistics.

  • That's up 15% from 2020, a previous record, Axios' Jacob Knutson reports.

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