Fentanyl deaths doubling annually over last five years in El Paso County

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
Fentanyl test strips available at the Harm Reduction Action Center, Nov. 6, 2019.

A one-year-old was among five children killed by fentanyl in El Paso County last year, according to data just released by the coroner’s office. Fentanyl-related deaths totaled 101 in 2021, more than double the previous year, a trend seen every year since five deaths were caused by the drug in 2017.

The coroner’s report said the average age of fentanyl deaths is going down with a mean age of 35, twelve years younger than that for deaths from all drugs. Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly attributes this shift to the current pill form of the drug, which is easily ingested and trafficked and highly toxic even in small amounts. Other drugs are often contaminated with fentanyl too.

If the trend continues, according to the report, fentanyl deaths this year will eclipse last year. Two minors are already among those who have died this year. 

Additional data released by the El Paso County coroner’s office:

  • 227 people died due to accidental drug overdoses and intoxications in El Paso County last year—a 22 percent increase from the previous year.
  • Methamphetamine deaths increased by 18% over 2020 to 107 with 25% of those deaths occurring in the presence of fentanyl. 
  • 38% percent of drug-related deaths had THC metabolites present at autopsy, compared to 23% of all cases autopsied at the coroner’s office.
  • In only 5% of accidental drug deaths were prescriptions to the decedent by their physician, which represents a decrease from the height of the prescription opioid crisis.

Related stories