Earlier this week four people died outside over the weekend. The Denver Department of Public Health and Environment confirmed preliminary testing suggests that the cause of death for the four people who died outside is likely linked to fentanyl related drug overdose. The office of the Medical Examiner also noted no definitive signs of hypothermia during autopsy of these cases. However, the cases will not be finalized for several weeks until the final toxicology results are received.
Those four deaths were near Broadway and Bayaud, Colfax and St. Paul, near Wewatta Street and around N. Alcott.
According to DDPHE, the number of outdoor deaths investigated by the office are similar to past weekends this month. The outdoor death category doesn't necessarily mean unhoused, but it does include anyone who is found deceased outside of a building, for instance a road, inside a car, in a park or natural area, on the sidewalk/alley, or in a parking lot. The office adds right now they are seeing moderate, ongoing increases in overdoses this year, yet nothing that would indicate the office to believe there are major changes in drug supply.
The City and County of Denver Medical Examiner data shows just this year, outside overdose deaths in the city have almost doubled in comparison to last year's total.
Even more disturbing, overall deaths among the unhoused are at on the rise, according to the Harm Reduction Action Center, overdose is the leading cause of death for the unhoused.
This is also impacting businesses in the area. Near East Colfax, the owner of The Bad Kittie Salon, Laura Powers speaks on what she has witnessed with the ongoing violence and drug use in the city.
"I've seen people openly using all types of drugs, from marijuana to cocaine to heroin," said Powers.
Powers adds it is taking a toll on her business, but also on the youth.
"We're block away from the high school, I've seen it happen in front of the kids going to and from school, which is super disturbing" said Powers.
She adds she used to stay open late, but now has decided to close her salon early due to safety concerns.
"We've lost a lot of business, people are afraid to come down here now, I am quite often asked 'aren't you afraid to be here?' I always said no but lately, yes," said Powers.
She's not the only one. The owner of Shangrila Tibet Imports has also been impacted. She says her business was broken into at least seven times in just one month, and is afraid this can continue.
According to the American Addiction Centers, research indicates that up to 75% of individuals who begin treatment for a SUD report having engaged in physical assault, mugging, using a weapon to attack another person, and other violent crimes.
Some business owners also blame of the violence on the drug use.
City and County data shows that it is only getting worse.
So far this year there have been more fatal overdoses, 459 with 299 due to fentanyl related overdoses, it is more than all of 2022, 453.
Moreover, in Denver's unhoused population, drug overdoses seem to be the leading cause of death. At least 170 of the 260 deaths so far this year between January and November are attributed to overdose.
The solution is tricky, but Raville believes more needs to be done in the Colorado state legislature.
"We need to be very clear that we will never treatment or incarcerate of any unregulated and toxic drug supply," said Raville.
Lisa Raville, executive director for the Harm Reduction Action Center also believes the community can help with at least one solution.
"People in the community should be carrying naloxone or Narcan, it is safe and highly effective and keeps people alive in the event of an overdose," said Raville.
She's in support and an advocate for overdose prevention centers -- which are commonly called safe injection sites.
Though earlier this year a legislative committee killed the bill after Gov. Jared Polis shared concerns.
In 2018, the city of Denver passed anto open a pilot location, which would have trained professionals on-site to save people in case of an overdose.
The city has not been able to open it because they are not legal in Colorado.
"People are continuing to die, and continuing to die publicly, legislators know that and they don't care," said Raville.
Though people like Powers don't believe this is the solution.
Her business sits near two addiction treatment centers, which she says contribute to the issue.
"I think we are seeing people who need the services, but maybe they could also be abusing them, I've seen a lot," said Powers.
Denver provides free harm reduction resources to residents, including naloxone and fentanyl test strips through the website denvergov.org/overdoseprevention. Confidential help for substance use is available through the Colorado Crisis Services online, call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text "TALK" to 38255 to be connected to a crisis counselor or trained professional with a master's or doctoral degree.
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