What are the most abused substances in Colorado? | AspenRidge

What are the most abused drugs in Colorado? They may not be what you think. Before you start guessing, let’s look at what we do know.

Colorado has a serious drug and alcohol abuse problem. How bad is it you ask? A 2013 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) on Americans aged 12 and above revealed that Colorado was the only state to feature as a top consumer of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine and non-medically prescribed opioid painkillers.

According to Charles Smith, Director of the Behavioral Health Division of the State Department of Human Services, “It’s always worrisome when we look at Colorado and other mountain states for substance abuse and serious mental illness.”

What are the most abused substances in Colorado – they might not be what you expect!

These are the most commonly abused substances in Colorado:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Methamphetamine
  • Heroin/opioids
  • Cocaine

Let’s look at the drug abuse statistics of each of these one by one.

What you need to know about alcohol abuse in Colorado

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), in 2015, 86.4% of the US adults aged above 18 years admitted to drinking alcohol at some point in their lives, 70.1% had drunk in the last year and 56% in the last month.

Even more alarming, in 2015, 26.9% of adult Americans reported binge drinking in the last month and 7% admitted to heavy alcohol use.

An estimated 623,000 adolescents aged between 12 and 17 had alcohol use disorder.

In Colorado, an estimated 18% of all residents admitted to heavy drinking in the last month. Almost half of the adults aged between 18 and 25 years admitted to binge drinking in the previous month.

The worst hit counties in the state are Routt and Pitkin where an estimated 30% of all residents engage in unhealthy drinking.  

Alcohol use disorder was the main reason for a majority of Colorado’s rehabilitation treatment admissions in 2014. Up to 38.4% of all people admitted to rehab had alcohol use disorder.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there were an average of 170 alcohol-related traffic deaths in the state every year between 2003 and 2012.

What you need to know about marijuana use in Colorado

Five years after Colorado legalized medical use of marijuana, the state’s adolescents have not shown any increased uptake in the drug. However, the adults have.

According to the 2015 National Institute of Health’s annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) survey, 18.35% of Colorado minors aged 12-17 years used marijuana in 2015, down from 20.8% in 2014 and 23% in 2003. The national average was 12.86%.

However, Colorado teens were much more likely to use marijuana that teens nationally. Only 12.86% of teens nationally admitted to taking marijuana in 2015 compared to Colorado’s 18.35%.

The trend in adult marijuana use in Colorado is going up. Up to 45.24% of adults aged between 18 and 25 years used marijuana in 2015, up from 43.95% in 2014.

In 2015, almost a third (31.75%) of young adults aged between 18 and 25 years used pot in the last month, 5% percent more than in 2012. For adults aged over 26 years, 14.65% had used marijuana in the last month compared to 12.4% in 2014 and 7.6% in 2012.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 13.6% of adults in the state aged above 18 regularly used marijuana with 33.2% of users reportedly using it daily and 18% driving while using.  

The counties with the highest use of marijuana were Denver, Boulder, Garfield, Eagle, Summit, Grand, Pitkin and Arapahoe. The least use was in the counties of Lincoln, Elbert, Kit Carson and Cheyenne.

According to a 2015 report by Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Traffic Area in collaboration with federal and state drug enforcement agencies, marijuana-related traffic fatalities in the state increased 154% from 37 in 2006 to 94 in 2014.

The report also revealed that Colorado emergency department medical visits “likely related” to marijuana increased 77% from 2011 to 2014 while those that “could be related to marijuana” increased by 68%.

What you need to know about methamphetamine use in Colorado

Stimulant drugs such as methamphetamines are the leading cause of drug overdose in Colorado.

In 2014, meth was the second leading reason for rehabilitation treatments in Colorado with 19.1% of all rehab patients abusing the substance, up 5% from 14.1% in 2011.

Since then, meth-related admissions in many treatment centers have doubled.

Coloradans aged 25 to 34 years represented more than 40% of those receiving meth treatment followed by age groups 18-24 years and 35-44 years, both at approximately 22%.

More than 66% of all identity thefts in the state are associated with meth users. In addition, an average of 35% of all drug-related legal offences in the state are linked to meth.

In Denver and Aurora counties, meth-related arrests shot up more than 140% from 2010 to 2014 to reach highs of 682. In Colorado Springs, 416 meth-related arrests were made in 2014, twice the number in 2010.

Meth use among teens is also on the rise. According to a 2016 survey by the Colorado Meth Project, meth use among teens aged between 12 and 17 years rose to 1% in 2016 from 0.02% in 2013.

Sadly, these numbers could go up in future as there seems to be no decrease in the supply of the drug. Authorities reported pulling over 2,000 pounds of meth from Colorado streets between 2009 and 2014. Just when they thought they were done, later that year federal agents seized a whopping 15,000 pound of the substance at the border – the highest amount ever seized.

National drug abuse statistics show that the state’s supply of the substance has increased by over 300% since 2011. This huge supply is a strong cause for worry. The Colorado Meth Project estimates that more than 25% of Colorado teens admitted to having easy access to meth.

What you need to know about opioids/heroin in Colorado

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), 20.5 million Americans had a substance abuse disorder in 2015, 2 million of whom were addicted to opioids while 591,000 were addicted to heroin. Up to 23% of people using heroin develop an opioid addiction.

The US consumes more than 80% of the world’s prescription opioids, even though it does not bear 80% of the world’s pain.

In 2012, 259 million prescription opioids were prescribed in the country, enough to give every American a bottle of pills.

In Colorado, the statistics are equally grim. Up to 40% of Coloradans admit to having abused popular prescription medication, a third of whom used some of the most commonly abused prescription medications for recreation.

Over 224,000 Colorado residents misuse prescription medications every year, the 12th highest number nationwide.

Between 2011 and 2013, an average of 7,600 Coloradans were admitted to emergency rooms annually because of prescription drug overdoses, 86% of which were related to painkillers.

According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in 2015, 259 Coloradans died from overdosing on natural prescription opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone. That was higher than the state’s 205 homicide deaths.

That same year, 70 died from overdosing on synthetic prescription opioids such as methadone and fentanyl. 143 died from a heroin overdose. Overall, 472 people died from a form of opioid overdose.


Heroin is Colorado’s most dangerous drug.

According to the 2015 NSDUH survey, 0.38% of Coloradans aged above 12 years used heroin in 2015, up from 0.29% in 2014. The national average in 2015 was 0.33%.

In 2003, the number of patients admitted to hospital for heroin use was 1,643. By 2013, that number had tripled to 4,556. In the northeast counties, the number had skyrocketed sixteen-fold to 524 from just 32.

Young adults aged between the ages of 18 and 24 years are the most affected by heroin. The age group has seen a 27% rise in heroin abuse since 2008.

In 2014, 12.4% of the people seeking treatment for drug addictions were using heroin while 6.4% were on opioids. Of those seeking treatment for heroin, 45% were young adults aged between 18 and 24 years, double the percentage in 2007.

The same age group recorded the highest number of heroin-related emergency room visits in 2013 at 29 per 100,000 patients up from approximately 16 per 100,000 in 2011.

What you need to know about cocaine in Colorado

According to the 2014-2015 NSDUH, more Americans are consuming cocaine and Coloradans are among those leading the pack. The survey showed cocaine use among Coloradans increased by over 2.5 percent in the two years making it the third highest consumer of cocaine behind Washington D.C. and New Hampshire.

Cocaine use among adults aged 18-25 years saw the sharpest increase (1.37%). The survey found that up to 8.6% of Coloradans in that age group had used cocaine in 2014. Cocaine use among 12-17 year olds also increased in the two years.

In 2014, cocaine was the fifth leading cause of rehab admissions in Colorado. It was also the second most cited drug in Colorado death certificates.  

What do the statistics tell us?

These most used Colorado drugs statistics reveal one thing: alcohol and drug addiction in Colorado is real and it affects more people than we thought it did. Up to one in seven Colorado residents either used drugs or was engaged in binge drinking in the last month. It’s almost certain that someone you know is affected by alcohol and drugs.

What’s more shocking is that substance use for such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, and opiates is on the rise and youth between the ages of 18 and 25 years are severely affected.

Sadly, many of the people affected are not seeking professional help. Only 11.4% of Coloradans aged 12 years and above with an alcohol addiction receive treatment; an estimated 9 out of 10 never receive treatment.

Only 16.1% of Colorado residents aged above 12 years with a drug addiction receive treatment; an estimated 5 out of 6 never receive treatment. There are thousands of Coloradans struggling with substance abuse but cannot receive treatment, even though the state has well-equipped rehabilitation centers.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, accepting the addiction and seeking professional help is the first step to recovery. Look for a rehab, join it and get started on the long road to healing.

Most centers offer 90-120 day rehabilitation programs which include such activities as:

  • Detoxification
  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • 12 step program therapy
  • Mental health examinations
  • Adult education classes
  • Nutrition guidance
  • Treatment of co-occurring disorders such as depression
  • Family counseling

No matter the substance you or your loved one is addicted to, recovery is possible. Do not allow yourself or your loved one to be just a statistic. Get professional help for alcohol and drug abuse in Colorado today.










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