EL PASO COUNTY — New numbers from the El Paso County Coroner show fentanyl related deaths more than doubled in 2020, when compared to 2019.
In 2019, there were 21 fentanyl related deaths reported in El Paso County. That number jumped to 45 in 2020. "Addiction is very similar to a virus in that respect. It's hard to control it, and once it gets into your community, without extreme measures and a focus on it, it's going to continue to run wild," said the El Paso County Coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly.
Only closed cases are reported by the El Paso County Coroner's Office, but Dr. Leon Kelly told News5 there are two probable cases in his office that are still pending. He said the number may jump to 47, if those are determined to be fentanyl related deaths.
Prior to 2015, Dr. Kelly's office rarely saw any fentanyl related deaths. The few that did pass through his office were almost exclusively suicides. But steadily, the number of fentanyl related drug overdose deaths has grown. Part of the increase has come with the ability to take fentanyl, which traditionally came in a patch or liquid form, and turn it into a powder. Once powder, it can be compacted into a pill or mixed into another illicit substance, like heroin. It can also be disguised as prescription pills.
Not only did cases rise in El Paso County, but there was a sharp increase when it came to fentanyl related deaths in the surrounding counties served by our coroner. In years past, the annual numbers have remained at six or below. But in 2020, it jumped to 16 fentanyl related deaths. "To see that translate from what we see in the city, out into the rural areas, just shows you how impactful something like this is... You kind of have this perception that rural country and rural America's immune to it. And if there's anything that the opioid crisis has proven to us, it's that that's not true," said Dr. Kelly.
It is important to note these are fentanyl related deaths, meaning the vast majority occurred as a combination of fentanyl and other substances. Only 4% were solely attributed to fentanyl.
Sparkle Lindsay, a recovery coach at Springs Recovery Connection, lost a friend to fentanyl in 2020. "I was only like nine months sober, and she took it, thought it was a Percocet, and they found her dead in the bathtub," said Lindsay, recalling what happened.
Lindsay said it is essential to pay attention to these numbers now, to try and save lives in the future. "If we pay more attention to it, we can get people the right resources to start taking their lives back and not even wanting to go this route in the first place... Springs Recovery Connection is where you can find your light at the end of the tunnel, and remember that that tunnel is just an illusion, you're always walking in the light," said Lindsay.
"We know we're not promised tomorrow, and that today will never come again, so I always ask that question: What are you going to do with it?"
If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction, don't wait to seek help. You can start by calling Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255.
EPC Coroner's annual report delayed due to COVID-19
"This too shall pass:" Resources for those in recovery and isolated
Budget cuts, relapses, and recovery: How the pandemic could perpetuate the opioid crisis
Recovery industry grows during COVID-19 pandemic