A Colorado county coroner is hoping public education will continue to catch up to the crisis she's seeing in the morgue with the constant doubling of fentanyl deaths year after year. Dr. Kelly Lear says she started to see deaths climb about five years ago but now her office is dealing with such an increase in deaths it has had to hire more staff to meet the demand.
"The curve shot up so quickly that it's kind of set off the alarm bells. If we don't do something it's just going to keep going," Dr. Lear, who has been the coroner since 2014 said.
In 2021, Arapahoe county saw 104 deaths. In 2019, there were fewer than 30. Dr. Lear says cases of overdose deaths affect all communities, from city centers to rural areas and impact all ages and ethnicities.
"People don't think of an 80-year-old as at risk of dying of a drug overdose. We've also seen it trickle down into younger ages. Toddlers are coming across it because it's in their environment and they think of it as candy," she said.
The increase in deaths hasn't just required more staff to handle the case load, but also to prevent the employees from getting overworked.
"It's driven up the workload so much that nobody has enough staffing to go around. Wearing on us physically just doing the work and emotionally because it's just so much more," Dr. Lear said.
She's started talking to more community groups to educate them about the drug's dangers and feels like just now is the public education catching up to the widespread use and dangers of fentanyl. The office has also seen a change in the overdose deaths. Many were accidental from laced drugs a few years ago to now seeing people dying from known fentanyl use.
"What makes this so dangerous is just that it's so unregulated and people don't know what they get. they could have one pill that can kill them and that's to me what is frightening about it. It's playing Russian roulette with a pill," Dr. Lear said.
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