An annual report by the El Paso County Coroner's Office revealed an increasing number of fentanyl-related deaths in the county last year as well as a small drop in the number of suicides.
The 19-page report outlines the causes of more than 1,400 cases involving sudden, unexpected, or non-natural deaths. The coroner's office also investigates deaths in the custody of law enforcement and industrial accidents.
The leading cause of natural death in 2021 was cardiovascular disease, followed by chronic alcoholism and COVID-19. The coroner's office only investigated COVID-19-related deaths that occurred at home or prior to diagnosis. A majority of those who died from the coronavirus passed away in the hospital or a care facility - those cases are not determined by the coroner.
- The leading cause of natural death in El Paso County in 2021 was cardiovascular disease, followed by chronic alcoholism and COVID-19.
- More than half of accidental deaths were drug-related, a 22 percent increase from 2020.
- Motorcycles were involved in a third of fatal crashes, with sedans in 31 percent of crashes.
- Sixty-two percent of homeless deaths were accidental.
- There were 61 homicides in 2021, compared to 55 in 2020.
- There were four youth suicides in 2021, down from 15 in 2020.
The report says more than half of accidental deaths were drug-related, a 22 percent increase from 2020. The most common drug found in toxicology tests was methamphetamine, going up 18 percent. Fentanyl-related deaths also rose. Of the people who lost their lives to drug overdose, nearly three-quarters were male; 60 percent had a prior history of substance abuse or addiction; and only five percent of cases involved medication prescribed by the decedent's physician.
The number of motor-vehicle-related pedestrian fatalities went up as well. Motorcycles were involved in a third of fatal crashes in the county, with sedans close behind in 31 percent of crashes.
The report also looked into deaths within the city's homeless community. Overall, four-fifths of those who died were male, three-quarters were white and more than half died from drug intoxication. Sixty-two percent of deaths were deemed accidental. Seven people died of hypothermia in El Paso County last year.
There were 61 total homicides in 2021, compared to 55 in 2020. The report attributed the jump "entirely to an increase in firearms-related deaths." Six of the deaths occurred in a single mass shooting event - a shooting at a birthday party in May of 2021. Nearly half of all homicides in El Paso County last year involved either domestic or family violence.
The county also saw a slight dip in the number of suicides, with two less than last year. Of those who completed suicide, nearly a third had known active or prior military duty. Youth suicides dropped dramaticaly with four total last year. That's down from 15 in 2020. The most common risk factors present for individuals who committed suicide were found to be relationship issues, financial struggles and substance abuse, among others.
The number of firearm-related homicides and firearm-related suicides both went up.
A positive section of the report shows 35 donors provided 120 life-saving organs after autopsies were concluded.
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