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Cost of opioid overdose deaths in Colorado topped $15.2B last year

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Robert Davis | The Center Square contributor

(The Center Square) – The total cost of deaths from opioid overdoses in Colorado topped $15.2 billion last year, according to a new report.

In all, Colorado recorded 1,104 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2021, a 127% increase from previous estimates that were released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2017, according to a report by the Common Sense Institute (CSI). Of those deaths, more than 800 were related to fentanyl, a 260% increase from 2019, the report said. 

The report comes as Colorado lawmakers and law enforcement try to reduce crime in the state. Another recent CSI report found that the state’s crime rate has soared in recent years and accounted for more than $31 billion in costs to Colorado taxpayers last year. 

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“The correlation of increasing crime rates with the public policy decisions of lawmakers in recent years is unquestionable,” Sandra Solin of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance said during a press conference on Monday. “The result, of course, are economically unhealthy communities across the state that have an unhealthy sense of security, thus resulting in an overall diminished quality of life.”

The report suggests that one reason why the cost of opioid-related deaths in Colorado is so high is that state lawmakers have worked to reduce punishments for possession of deadly substances such as fentanyl. 

In 2019, Colorado lawmakers passed House Bill 19-1263, which made it a misdemeanor to possess up to four grams of most controlled substances, rather than a felony. Since that bill was passed, motor vehicle thefts have increased by 38% across the state and burglaries have increased by 14 percent, the report said. 

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“We don’t have to look any further than the daily news headlines to understand that this is the most tragic public policy issue facing our state today,” said Mitch Morrissey, a former district attorney and current CSI criminal justice fellow.

The report mentions bills like House Bill 22-1326, which would increase penalties for fentanyl-related offenses. HB22-1326 is set to be heard before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. 

“I’ve said it before. We are in the midst of a crime tsunami,” former District Attorney George Brauchler said. “We know definitively that the price of doing nothing is costing lives.”