Drug Overdoses

Drug overdoses are increasing across the U.S.

The rates of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths associated with drug overdoses have been increasing across the United States. While the increases are not as dramatic in Jefferson County as in some parts of the United States, these rates have been increasing here over the past several years.  

Use of drugs remains one of the most difficult health outcomes to quantify. While we have systems that can track the number of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and deaths associated with drug overdoses, we do not have a good system to track the number of people using these substances. The graphic below shows how the number of deaths that we see related to substances are just a small proportion of the overall user population.

Note: The data shown in the charts on this page do not distinguish between accidental and intentional overdose.

Source: CDC Policy Impact, Prescription Painkiller Overdoses (2011).

Emergency Department Visits

The charts below distinguish between emergency department (ED) visits for pharmaceutical opioid overdoses, excluding heroin, and heroin overdoses for Jefferson County and Colorado. In Jefferson County, the rates of visits to the ED for pharmaceutical opioids has decreased from 2012 to 2016, but increased again in 2017. Rates of ED visits for heroin in Jefferson County have been increasing, but stabilized between 2015 to 2017. Overall, our ED rates for these substances has been slightly higher than Colorado.

When looking at ED visits by age group, there are not clear trends for opioids in Jefferson County. However, heroin overdoses are most frequent in 20-to-24-years-olds and have been increasing across all age groups. The number of heroin overdoses in 15-to-19-year-olds was too low to report (<3 cases per year), until 2014, and so even in this age group we are seeing increases.


Hospitalizations for pharmaceutical opioids have been decreasing for several years, however hospitalizations due to heroin have been increasing in Jefferson County and Colorado. Interestingly, while the rates for females who were hospitalized for these substances initially were higher then males, males have now caught up and surpassed the rate for females.  

* Note: In 2009 & 2010 rates were suppressed due to low counts, to ensure confidentiality and due to statistical reliability. 


Similar to the rates for emergency department visits and hospitalizations related to pharmaceutical opioid overdoses, the mortality rate for pharmaceutical opioid-related deaths has been declining in Jefferson County. In 2017, we have seen a decrease in the mortality rates related to heroin.

The hospitalization rates above show women have historically been admitted more frequently than men for overdoses. However, with only a few exceptions across age groups, men are more likely to die from pharmaceutical opioid overdoses than women. Across all age groups men have a higher mortality rate due to heroin overdose than women.

Among men, the highest mortality rates for both heroin and pharmaceutical opioid overdoses occurs in the 25-to-29-year-old age group. Among women, the highest mortality rate occurs in the 50-to-54-year-old age group for pharmaceutical opioid overdoses and the 20-to-24-year-old age group for heroin.

The maps below show the mortality rates associated with pharmaceutical opioids (left) and heroin (right), by census tract in Jefferson County. There were fewer deaths associated with heroin between 2011-2015 than pharmaceutical opioids, which is why there are more shaded areas in the map on the right. Of note, the areas of highest pharmaceutical opioid mortality are not necessarily the areas with highest heroin mortality.  

Opioid mortality rates, per 100,000 person, by Census Tract, Jefferson County (2011-2015)

Source: Colorado Vital Records

Heroin mortality rates, per 100,000 person, by Census Tract, Jefferson County (2011-2015)

Source: Colorado Vital Records

Drug Take Back Locations

Colorado has established permanent drug take back locations. All locations can accept prescribed controlled substances (e.g., Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, Ritalin and Adderall) along with other prescribed and over-the-counter medications.

Click on the image below to be taken to the Colorado's informational site, which includes an interactive map of all the locations around the state.

Source: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/colorado-medication-take-back-program


Data Sources

Colorado Hospital Association via CDPHE: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: Age and Gender specific data - direct request; Emergency Department and Hospital Discharge data via the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Data Dashboard: https://public.tableau.com/profile/omni#!/vizhome/ConsortiumDashboardTESTING/Readmefirst

Colorado Injury Hospitalization Statistics, CDPHE: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/cohid/Default.aspx

Colorado Vital Records: Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment: http://www.chd.dphe.state.co.us/cohid/Default.aspx

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Published on July 17, 2018

Updated on January 10, 2020