CBSN DenverWatch

Outpacing COVID-19 Deaths: Overdose Fatalities In Larimer County On Track To Double This Year

FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – The Northern Colorado Drug Task Force says they have seen a significant spike in drugs usage since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. Drug overdose fatalities in 2020 are already on pace to more than double the number from last year.

Twenty-five people died of drug overdoses in Larimer County in 2019 while 28 Larimer County residents have died due to drug overdoses in the first six months of 2020. Only 21 have died in the county due to COVID-19 in the same period.

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“We’ve seen a gigantic rise in overdose deaths,” said Larimer County Sheriff Cpt. Joe Shellhammer.

Shellhammer told CBS4’s Dillon Thomas there was a clear spike in cases as the pandemic emerged in Colorado, and Gov. Jared Polis issued a stay-at-home order.

“By the second week in March things really started to ramp up,” Shellhammer said.

With more drug overdose fatalities in the first six months than the entire year prior, Shellhammer said he believes there is a correlation between the spike and the depression brought on by the pandemic.

“When everyone got locked down it seemed to come in spurts. Three, two, four on a weekend. Which is highly unusual for Northern Colorado.”

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Shellhammer, in his own opinion, said he believed many people were increasing their drug usage amid concerns over their jobs, families and financial standing.

“(The increase) is bizarre, and horrific in the same temperature,” Shellhammer said.

If the number of fatal overdoses stays on current pace, by the end of 2020 the fatality rate would more than double that of 2019. Shellhammer said while statistics outlining fatalities sometimes involve suicides, many are unintentional.

Shellhammer said law enforcement has been following the progression of the illegal drug market since COVID-19 emerged. Not only has usage and fatal overdoses increased, but so too has the prices.

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In January, a gram of meth could be purchased in Northern Colorado for around $25. However, after the United States and Mexico border was closed due to the pandemic, prices increased due to suffocation of the cartel’s delivery method.

“Now, it is up $110 a gram,” Shellhammer said.

While methamphetamine is a great concern for law enforcement, Shellhammer said other drugs are more potent and lethal.

“Fentanyl is pretty unforgiving,” Shellhammer said. “Three years ago we didn’t see fentanyl at all. Now, we see it every other day.”

While the Northern Colorado Drug Task Force is working hard to keep the drugs off the streets, while getting assistance to those who have overdosed, often times it comes down to a quick response by first responders.

“Four or five (overdose victims) are being saved for every one that (is) passing away,” Shellhammer said.

However, often times it is too late to receive medical attention by the time someone who overdoses is located. Shellhammer encouraged friends and family members of those abusing drugs to help them seek help of their own, as resources are available to overcome addictions.

Those who wish to seek help regarding drug use or mental health are urged to contact Connections in Fort Collins at 970.221.5551.