Heroin in Colorado - A Preliminary Impact and Threat Assessment

By Lindsey M. Kato, MPH, CHES

The Colorado Department of Human Services partners with the Colorado Judicial Department and the Court Improvement Program to present information at the annual Convening for Children, Youth and Families for judicial officers and best practice court teams. This blog post is the second in a series to share information presented at the 2017 Convening. The Convening session provided overview of the emerging drug threat posed by heroin in Colorado as well at it's impacts to public health and law enforcement. 


Colorado has seen a rise in fatal and non-fatal heroin-related overdoses. Much like the rest of the United States, heroin in Colorado is typically from Mexico and is trafficked in large quantities through both Salt Lake City and Denver because of transportation corridors that allow access to the rest of the United States. From 2011 to 2015, heroin-related deaths increased 93 percent, while heroin-related emergency department visits doubled. Within this same time period, law enforcement reported a 1,526 percent increase in the pounds of heroin seized, from 16.1 to 268.7 pounds.

In May 2016, the Violence and Injury Prevention – Mental Health Promotion (VIP-MHP) branch of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) placed a Heroin Strategies Coordinator within the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program (RMHIDTA) to staff the Heroin Response work group of the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention. ]

Note: RMHIDTA is an agency funded by the Office of National Drug Control and Policy (ONDCP) to support multi-level drug task forces targeting traffickers throughout the four Rocky Mountain states, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and Colorado.

The Heroin Response work group is made up of local, state, and federal representatives from law enforcement, treatment, recovery, public health and criminal justice agencies. The five objectives of the group include –

  1. Understand heroin use
  2. Collect data related to heroin in Colorado
  3. Identify programs, practices and coalitions addressing heroin
  4. Increase collaboration
  5. Improve information exchange on heroin

In April 2017, the group released the first state multidisciplinary report on Heroin in Colorado which reports on data from treatment, law enforcement and public health, related to heroin between 2010 and 2015. Also included in the report, are the results from a survey to understand more about heroin use, which includes responses from 713 individuals who experience opioid use disorders in the Denver-Metro area. According to the survey in the Denver-Metro area, 70% of those who reported having used heroin, reported first starting with prescription opioids. The Heroin Response work group has prioritized the working relationship between law enforcement, treatment in Colorado to address the heroin problem collectively.

To learn more about state efforts in Colorado, and data pertaining to the opioid epidemic click HERE.

About the Author:

Lindsey M. Kato, MPH, CHES, is the heroin strategies & overdose prevention coordinator in the violence and injury prevention mental health promotion branch of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

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