The Coloradoan, Fort Collins CO
December 01, 2011
The deaths of three young men in Fort Collins this week are being investigated as heroin overdoses, and experts say more overdoses could be coming.
A CSU student, 18, died of an apparent heroin overdose on Monday after being rushed from his campus dorm room. And on Wednesday, police announced the deaths of a man, 29, found at a home in the 2900 block of Tumbleweed Lane on Tuesday, and of a man, 24, found dead at a home in the 100 block of East Trilby Road. In those deaths, police said heroin is being investigated as a cause.
The Larimer County Coroner's office is investigating the deaths of all three men, and formal toxicology reports are pending.
Frontline emergency medical workers say they have seen an increase in the number of heroin overdoses in the past week. If called quickly enough, paramedics can administer a drug that blocks heroin overdoses.
Wyandt Holmes, a spokesman and paramedic for Poudre Valley Hospital EMS, said paramedics normally respond to reported heroin overdoses a few times a month, but then often see a sharp increase when a new strain of the drug enters circulation.
"There has definitely been a spate of calls recently," he said.
Police on Wednesday did not release details explaining why heroin is suspected in the two most recent deaths. The coroner's office said the Colorado State University student who died had needle tracks on his arms and black tar heroin in his pants pocket.
Dean Beers, a former coroner's investigator who is now a private investigator, said heroin overdose deaths are doubly devastating for families, because there is a stigma attached to having a family member die of an illegal drug.
Like Holmes, Beers said it's not uncommon to see several heroin overdoses happen within a short period because heroin isn't sold in controlled, monitored doses like pharmaceutical drugs. Holmes said sometimes an extra-strong batch of the drug will enter circulation, or a batch that's been cut with something particularly toxic.
"You don't know, when you're buying heroin, what it's been cut with," said Beers, a Certified Legal Investigator who runs the Fort Collins-based Associates in Forensic Investigations LLC.
Beers said heroin has long been present in Larimer County. Coroner's statistics show there were five heroin deaths last year, two in 2009, five in 2008, none in 2007, and five in 2006.
"There's more drug use than maybe people want to admit," Beers said.
Dr. Jeremy Dubin, a board-certified addiction medicine specialist with a practice in Loveland, said he's heard anecdotal reports of increased heroin use, and of stronger strains.
"Usually, people will be able to tolerate the lighter strains, but when there's a more potent strain that comes into the community, you start seeing overdoses," said Dubin of Healing Arts Family Medicine. "You get kind of complacent because you've been able to tolerate it in the past."
Dubin pointed out that deaths from prescription opiates still far outweigh deaths from heroin in Larimer County. Last year, for instance, the coroner's office recorded 24 deaths caused primarily by prescription opiates.
"My heart goes out to these families," Dubin said