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The rate of fentanyl overdoses in El Paso County is slowing down

Before 2021, deaths from fentanyl were doubling every year. The El Paso Coroner says the rate of fentanyl deaths are not growing as fast.
Posted at 7:37 PM, Jul 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-20 21:37:37-04

COLROADO SPRINGS— Each year the El Paso County Coroner’s Office compiles data from the previous year regarding deaths in the county. This July, the Annual Coroner’s Report for 2022 was released.

The report shows the number of people who have died from fentanyl, homicides, motorcycles, suicide and deaths within the homeless community.

There is some promising news in the fight against opioid addiction and homicides in El Paso County. El Paso County Coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly said the rate of fentanyl overdoses in El Paso County is plateauing.

“The biggest story of the last several years certainly has been fentanyl, and on that front there is a little bit of good news, bad news,” said Dr. Kelly.

The bad news is in 2022 El Paso County had 115 deaths from fentanyl. This was the highest number of fentanyl deaths ever recorded in El Paso County.

“The good news is that while the rate of change has increased once again from 2021 to 2022 the rate of how much it's gone up from one year to the next is decreasing. So for five years, we essentially doubled whatever the year before was,” said Dr. Kelly.

Before 2021, fentanyl deaths were doubling each year. Deaths from fentanyl did increase from 99 in 2021 to 155 deaths in 2022. Dr. Kelly said this is not at the high rate that he has seen in years past.

“Yes, it's an increase. Yes, that's bad. Yes, more people died. But the trajectory that we were on is flattening out,” said Dr. Kelly.

The number of fentanyl deaths so far in 2023 are very similar to last year.

“That means we are hopeful that at the top of the plateau, it means what we're doing is working, it's decreasing the rate of increase,” Kelly said.

Kelly credits the numbers flattening out in 2023 to the increase in public awareness. He said it's a combination of public health prevention, and law enforcement working together is slowing it down.

“I think awareness is the first step and the second step is the combination of both a criminal justice law enforcement component which has historically been how we address substance abuse in this country, but even more importantly, a public health prevention and mental health component of it. I think this time with this drug, we've done better at balancing those two things and leveraging both of those sides of this issue together,” said Dr. Kelly.

Kelly said it is important to continue to fight these issues with solutions. He said the fentanyl crisis is not going to be fixed overnight but there are things to be done.

“You can't solve this crisis that we're in with a simple solution of just arresting more people. Or by just putting more Narcan on the street right. There aren't simple solutions to complex problems and so everybody from every sector that touches this has to play a role,” said Dr. Kelly.

The report also looks at deaths within the homeless community. From 2021 to 2022, the total deaths of homeless people increased from 78 to 121.

Dr. Kelly said this increase in homeless deaths is due to homicides and fentanyl. There were seven deaths out of the 78 in 2021 that died from fentanyl. In 2022, there were 35 deaths for fentanyl out of the 121 deaths of homeless people over the year.

As for 2023, the number of deaths are very similar to 2022. Dr. Kelly said this is because of fentanyl. The number of homicides within the homeless community are decreasing.

Dr. Kelly said there was a span from October 2022 through November 2022, where homicides spiked. There were around six. This number is drastically down in 2023, with only one homicide so far this year.

The report also looks at homicides throughout the entire community, not just the homeless population. Homicides have gone down in 2023.

It shows there were 78 homicides in El Paso County in 2022, up from 61 in 2021.

In addition, the amount of completed suicides increased from 2021 to 2022 by 10%. Like fentanyl, Dr. Kelly said this number is starting to plateau.

The coroner’s report also tracked traffic and motorcycle deaths.

Dr. Kelly says the reason he put this report together is to educate people about issues within the county and to start the conversation for change.

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