“I think, by any measure, the experience of Colorado has not been a good one, unless you’re in the marijuana business. We’ve seen lives damaged. We’ve seen deaths directly attributed to marijuana legalization. We’ve seen marijuana slipping through Colorado’s borders. We’ve seen marijuana getting into the hands of kids.”
~ Kevin A. Sabet, Executive Director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana
It’s been almost 2 years since the commercial sale of marijuana to the public began in the State of Colorado, and in that time, the landscape of drug use, abuse, and addiction has changed a great deal – and most of those changes are not for the better.
What You Need to Know about Drug Abuse in Colorado
Overall, Colorado’s use of alcohol and illicit drugs is much higher than the national average. Charles Smith, the Director of the Behavioral Health Division of the State Department of Human Services, said, “It’s always worrisome when we look at Colorado and other mountain states for substance abuse and serious mental illness.”
- According to a 2011 federal survey, 4% of the United States population 12 and older admitted to using any illicit drug – in Colorado, that rate was 11.3%. For further comparison, Iowa’s rate was 5.3%.
- 4.3% of adult Coloradans seriously considered suicide within the past year, compared to 3.7% of all US adults.
Now, let’s take a look at some specific drugs and the problems they create for the residents of Colorado.
What You Need to Know about Marijuana Use and Abuse in Colorado
Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for everyone.
- In 2011-2012, 4% of Coloradans age 12 and older reported “past month” usage, placing Colorado seventh in the nation for monthly marijuana use.
- 2012-2013 saw a 22% increase, to a rate of 7%.
- That equates to about 530,000 Coloradans using marijuana at least once a month.
- That bump moves Colorado into second place for monthly marijuana use.
- That compares unfavorably to the nationwide figure of 4%.
- A 2011 survey showed that 5% of young adults in Colorado admitted to using marijuana within the past year. The national average was significantly lower –29.1%.
- As expected, legalization has meant a massive decrease in arrests for marijuana possession. Focusing for the moment on Denver, in 2012 there were 1548 such arrests, but by 2014, there were only 351.
However, in 2012, there were only 8 arrests for public consumption, and that number skyrocketed to 891 by 2014.
Similarly, there were (obviously) no arrests for smoking marijuana in parks in 2012, but 295 arrests in 2014.
- Colorado State Police gave out 5546 tickets for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in 2014. 12% of those citations were marijuana-related.
- Statewide, 8% of all drug treatment admissions are for marijuana
What You Need to Know about Prescription Opiate Painkiller Abuse in Colorado
As it is elsewhere in the country, prescription opioid painkiller abuse is a serious problem in Denver. The problem is so widespread that recently, Governor John Hickenlooper recently played an active role in launching “Take Meds Seriously”, a public awareness campaign hoping to address prescription medicine abuse.
- On average, 35 Coloradans die every month from unintentional prescription drug overdoses
- Colorado is #12 in the country for the abuse/misuse of prescription medications
- 224,000 people in Colorado misuse prescription medications every year
- According to the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, deaths caused by prescription medication overdoses quadrupled 2000-2011.
- 2011-2013, 7600 Coloradans were seen in emergency rooms every year because of drug overdoses
- 86% were because of prescription painkillers
- In Colorado, 18-25-year-olds overdose on prescription painkillers twice as often as the rest of the population
- 4 out of 10 Colorado adults admit to misusing medicine, primarily painkillers
- One-third of those do so for recreational purposes
- Approximately one-third of Colorado citizens admit to using someone else’s prescription
- In 2004, only 6% total treatment admissions were for prescription opioids, but by 2013, that percentage had risen to 7.3%.
What You Need to Know about Heroin Abuse in Colorado
In Colorado and across the country, heroin abuse is on the rise, primarily because so many people are/were abusing prescription opioids, which are now both more expensive and harder to acquire for abusers. Heroin can be purchased for a fraction of the cost of a pill.
Robert Vaulk, Coordinator of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, says, “If you start out early, you gradually get to use more and more. And you get more hard-core over years and years. Then you move away from prescription drugs because they’re so hard to get after a while. Then you move to stuff like heroin.”
- Among 18-24-year-old Coloradans, there has been a 27% increase in heroin abuse since 2008.
- In the last four years, heroin deaths in Colorado have tripled.
- In 2014, there were 151 fatalities due to an overdose of heroin.
- In 2000, there were only 37.
- A generation ago, in 1993, 1643 people were admitted to state drug treatment programs for heroin abuse.
- By 2013, that number had almost tripled, to 4556.
- In Colorado’s northeast corner, the increase during the same period was more than sixteen-fold, 32 to 524.
- Focusing on Denver – in 2014, heroin killed more individuals than any other illicit drug.
What You Need to Know about Methamphetamine Abuse in Colorado
“Meth is the number one drug problem in the Rocky Mountain region. It’s the ripple effect the drug has, it’s not just about how it impacts the users – it’s how that one user impacts larger community.”
~ Kent MacLennan, Executive Director of the Colorado Meth Project
- Federal agents at the border seized 15,000 pounds of meth in 2014 – the highest amount ever.
- In Denver and Aurora, meth possession arrests have shot up more than 140% since 2010.
- In Colorado Springs, there were 416 arrests for meth possession in 2014. That is double the number from 2010.
- 19.1% of all Colorado treatment admissions are for methamphetamines.
- That is the highest rate for any substance except for alcohol.
- In 2012, that number was only 3%.
- Approximately two-thirds of all ID thefts are committed by users of methamphetamines.
Would You Need to Know about Alcohol Abuse in Colorado
“Excessive alcohol use is a huge public health problem. It’s killing people in the prime of their lives.”
~ Dr. Robert Brewer, of the Centers for Disease Control’s Alcohol Program
- Colorado and other states in the region have the highest death rates attributable to alcohol in the country.
- Among Colorado citizens between the ages of 18 and 25, 5% – almost half – admitted to engaging in binge-drinking within the last month, compared to 41.4% nationwide.
- Counting all age groups, approximately 18% of all Colorado adults engaged in heavy or binge drinking monthly – 1 out of every 5.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control, Alcohol is the “main factor” in 2% of all deaths for Colorado adults between the ages of 20 and 64.
- The national average for that age group is 8%.
- One out of every three Colorado drivers arrested for a DUI has a previous one.
- The worst rates of problem drinking are in Routt and Pitkin counties, where approximately 30% of adults drink at unhealthy levels.
- Pitkin and Summit counties are #2 and #3 in the entire country for any type of alcohol usage –6% and 78%, respectively.
By any measure, Colorado, it is obvious that alcohol and drug abuse is a major problem in Colorado – for individuals, their families, and society at large. If you or someone you care about have a substance abuse problem, the best thing you can do for the sake of everybody concerned is to contact a professional addiction rehabilitation program today.