Jan 11, 2024 - News

Alcohol deaths reach alarming rates but get little attention in Colorado

Alcohol-induced deaths per 100k people, 2021
Data: Kaiser Family Foundation; Map: Axios Visuals

While a spike in drug overdoses has captured most of the attention in Colorado, another killer is quietly striking.

Driving the news: Alcohol-induced deaths more than doubled from 2009 to 2021, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.

  • Colorado's rate is the sixth highest in the nation, at 26.5 deaths per 100,000 people.

Why it matters: Unlike the reaction to fentanyl-fueled overdoses, which led policymakers to take major steps, state leaders largely have overlooked measures to help reduce alcohol use, according to a Denver Post investigation.

By the numbers: Residents consume about 645 drinks per year β€” well above the national average of 536, according to the State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup. The most popular beverage is spirits.

  • Colorado is ninth in the nation for binge drinking rates, the paper found.

What's happening: The major contributing factors include a social acceptance of drinking, ineffective warnings about the risks, limited spending on prevention programs and hurdles when attempting to obtain treatment, experts say.

  • Low taxes also play a role. The excise tax on beer and wine is the third lowest in the nation, while liquor taxes rank fourth lowest.
  • Alcohol has also become more widely available with the recent addition of beer and wine sales in grocery and convenience stores. Liquor license counts increased from more than 14,000 in 2017 to just over 16,000 in 2021, the newspaper found.

The intrigue: Higher taxes and fewer locations are shown to lower consumption, experts report. And both β€” along with limiting sales hours and greater liability for retailers β€” were recommendations from a 2018 task force that looked at how to curtail excess drinking.

  • None has been implemented.

What they're saying: Gov. Jared Polis lists "health and safety" as a top priority but considers drinking a personal responsibility.

  • Democratic state Rep. Marc Snyder, whose finance committee oversees alcohol regulation, acknowledged to the Post that "we kind of forget about alcohol" in terms of its risks.

The other side: The alcohol industry rejects the notion that higher taxes will curtail alcohol abuse, instead putting the onus on the health care industry for better screening and treatment.

The bottom line: "Really, any level of alcohol use is not great for your health," University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus clinical psychologist Joseph Schacht told the newspaper.

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