- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

DENVER (AP) - Heroin deaths doubled between 2011 and 2015 in Colorado while arrests for heroin offenses grew six times during that time period, according to the state’s first report on the drug released Thursday. However, officials in law enforcement and public health said the state’s heroin problem is not as severe as that seen on the East Coast and Midwest and are hoping efforts to fight the abuse of prescription painkillers will eventually help keep the heroin problem from getting worse.

“We want to jump ahead of the problem before it gets that bad,” said Thomas Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which helps local, state and federal agencies coordinate drug enforcement.

There were 79 deaths related to heroin in Colorado in 2011 and 160 in 2015, the latest data available, according to the report. Pueblo County had the highest rate of heroin-related overdose deaths in the state while Denver and the southeastern corner of Colorado had heroin-related deaths that were above the overall state rate.

The report did not address whether marijuana has played any role in the amount of heroin use because the state is still trying to determine its impact. There are outside studies that show both that legal marijuana can increase heroin use and that marijuana can be used to wean heroin users off the drug, at least in the short term, said Dr. Larry Wolk, the state’s chief medical officer and executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The report included the results of a survey of over 700 heroin users being treated mainly at nine Denver area methadone clinics. Seventy percent of them said that their use of prescription pain killers played a role in their decision to try heroin. About 40 percent said they initially tried heroin because they were curious about while 20 percent said it was because it was cheaper than other alternatives.

Most of those surveyed were white and between the ages of 25 to 34 with some college education.

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