In advance of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31, a day of remembrance for those who died from overdose, Denver’s health department is urging the community to take note of the services it offers to prevent further loss of life.
“With multiple factors contributing to the increasing overdose risk, including COVID-19, unemployment and other economic factors, this year’s Overdose Awareness Day is more critical than ever,” Bob McDonald, executive director of the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, said in a statement Thursday. “Given the increase in overdose deaths, we want to be as proactive as possible by addressing these very preventable deaths.”
Denver has seen a sharp spike in overdose deaths in the first six months of this year, particularly overdoses linked to fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be up to 50 times more potent than heroin. From January through June, the city reported a 354% increase in fentanyl-related overdose deaths compared with the same time period last year.
“There is no ‘one face’ to substance use. It impacts parents, siblings, friends and coworkers, often without people close to them even knowing,” Marion Rorke, the substance use resource coordinator for DDPHE, said in a statement. “It’s important for everyone, but people who use drugs and their support networks in particular, to know how to recognize and respond to an overdose, and to carry naloxone in the event of an opioid overdose.”
To help raise awareness of overdoses and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths, the state will be honoring International Overdose Awareness Day by hosting multiple events across Colorado, including in Denver at the Harm Reduction Action Center.
The event, hosted from 1 to 3 p.m. on Aug. 31, will include a march around the state Capitol “to provide a visual impact of those we lost, and continue to lose, to overdoses in our community.” There will also be training on how to use Narcan, a nasal spray medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
Some of the strategies to address overdose deaths that have been employed on a city and statewide basis include:
- Drugs purchased outside of a pharmacy are not always what they are marketed as, so even if someone does not typically use opioids, they should still consider keeping naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, on hand. Find out more about naloxone and where to get it at StoptheClockColorado.org, which lists pharmacies that stock naloxone in Denver (there may be a cost associated based on health insurance). There is a standing order for pharmacies, so you do not need an individual prescription to receive it from a pharmacy. Or, visit BringNaloxoneHome.org for more information on how naloxone works.
- For people who use opioids and want medication-assisted treatment, they can visit the Denver Health emergency department 24/7 for an immediate assessment and induction on buprenorphine. They can also access treatment for other substances as well. Denver Health’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Services can be reached at 303-602-4851.
- For other types of treatment or mental health support, residents can contact the Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255, text “TALK” to 38255, or visit the facility at 4353 East Colfax Avenue. In addition, resources are available at Let’s Talk Colorado.
- Syringe services programs offer naloxone and a host of services for people who use substances. Contact Access Point at 303-837-1501; Harm Reduction Action Center at 303-572-7800; or Lifepoint at 720-385-6898.
- If a resident has old or unused medications, learn more about safe use, safe storage and safe disposal from Take Meds Seriously, the City’s medication disposal resources, or contact the Colorado Take Meds Back program, which has an interactive map to medication take-back locations around the state.