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4 people who died outside in Denver over weekend likely overdosed

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The four people found dead outdoors in Denver over the cold, snowy weekend all likely died of overdoses, officials said — a string of deaths that come amid a new increase in fentanyl-fueled drug fatalities across the city.

Denver already has recorded more fatal overdoses this year than in 2022, city data shows — and overall deaths among people experiencing homelessness are at an all-time high.

Additionally, the number of people who died of fatal overdoses outdoors in Denver so far in 2023 has nearly doubled last year’s toll.

“It makes it all the more tragic because they’re unnecessary deaths,” said Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Two people were found dead outdoors on Saturday — on Wewatta Street near Union Station and northeast of downtown in Jefferson Park — and two on Sunday — on South Broadway in Baker and on East Colfax Avenue in City Park, the Denver Police Department reported.

While the causes of death will not be finalized for several weeks, preliminary testing suggests all four likely suffered fatal drug overdoses, said Tammy Vigil, a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, in an email Tuesday.

The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner, during autopsies, noted no definitive signs of hypothermia from the weekend’s frigid temperatures, Vigil said. A police spokesperson previously had told The Denver Post that investigators didn’t believe either of Saturday’s two deaths were related to the cold snap.

The medical examiner’s office had not publicly identified the four people as of Tuesday evening.

“Sadly, the number of outdoor death cases investigated by our office this weekend are similar to past weekends this month,” Vigil said.

Fentanyl deaths continue to rise

Overdose deaths in Denver in 2023 already have surpassed 2022’s total, according to the medical examiner’s online dashboard. So far this year, 459 people have died of drug overdoses in the city — about 65% due to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl — up from 2022’s total of 453.

This year’s numbers haven’t reached Denver’s peak, in 2021, of 472 total overdose deaths. But the number of fentanyl overdoses among 2023’s drug fatalities — 299 — already is well above 2021’s subset of 240 fentanyl deaths.

In 2018, only 17 of Denver’s 207 overdose deaths involved fentanyl.


Click to enlarge

Statewide, drug overdose deaths peaked at 1,881 in 2021 and fell to 1,799 in 2022, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. So far this year, the state has recorded 1,290 overdose deaths — but given the lag of up to four months in finalized death certificate data, that number is far from complete.

“Year over year, we’ve seen this increase, but I think with the fentanyl crisis, it’s becoming even worse because people don’t always know what substances they’re using when it has fentanyl in it,” said Alderman, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The “outside death” designation of the four weekend cases doesn’t necessarily mean they were people experiencing homelessness. Anyone who is found dead outside of a building — on a road or sidewalk, in a car, in a park, in a parking lot — is included in that category, Vigil said.

Outdoor overdose deaths in Denver in 2023 have nearly doubled last year’s total, with 82 people fatally overdosing outside this year compared to 48 in 2022, medical examiner data shows. In 2021, 38 of the city’s overdose deaths occurred outdoors.

Among Denver’s population of people experiencing homelessness, which already has seen an all-time high in deaths this year, drug overdoses are by far the leading cause of death — accounting for 170 of the 256 deaths between January and October.

Chart of Denver's homeless overdose deaths
Click to enlarge

“People are dying”

More work needs to be done to provide services directly to unsheltered homeless people, especially as they are preyed upon by people trying to get them reliant on dangerous drugs,  Alderman said.

“We need to think about doing more in that space in terms of keeping the criminal element away from some of our more vulnerable community members,” she said. “We need more resources into the community to control the flow of substances and to provide people with recovery services when they need them.”

The coalition is working to do some of that, Alderman said, with the Stout Street Health Center at 2130 Stout St. The facility provides a full range of clinical care, from primary care to vision and dental, but also offers substance use and behavioral health programs.

The health center has a street medical team that goes to homeless encampments in Denver to provide services for people at the camps.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless recently was awarded a contract by the city to provide services at the micro-communities under Mayor Mike Johnston’s House1000 initiative, and Alderman hopes providing medical services can get homeless people into safer living situations so they can enter recovery.

“But that does nothing to address the crisis we saw over the weekend and we’re seeing every day on the streets,” she said. “Because people are dying.”

Midday Tuesday, the Denver Police Department announced it was conducting another outdoor death investigation, this time in the area of Santa Fe Drive and the South Platte River.

Other resources available in Denver

Vigil, with the Denver health department, said the city has several programs working on the problem of overdoses among people experiencing homelessness.

The Substance Use Navigator Program deploys behavioral health specialists with Denver police specialists to respond to behavioral health needs and link people to resources without legal involvement.




The four people found dead outdoors in Denver over the cold, snowy weekend all likely died of overdoses, officials said — a string of deaths that come amid a new increase in fentanyl-fueled drug fatalities across the city.

Denver already has recorded more fatal overdoses this year than in 2022, city data shows — and overall deaths among people experiencing homelessness are at an all-time high.

Additionally, the number of people who died of fatal overdoses outdoors in Denver so far in 2023 has nearly doubled last year’s toll.

“It makes it all the more tragic because they’re unnecessary deaths,” said Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Two people were found dead outdoors on Saturday — on Wewatta Street near Union Station and northeast of downtown in Jefferson Park — and two on Sunday — on South Broadway in Baker and on East Colfax Avenue in City Park, the Denver Police Department reported.

While the causes of death will not be finalized for several weeks, preliminary testing suggests all four likely suffered fatal drug overdoses, said Tammy Vigil, a spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, in an email Tuesday.

The Denver Office of the Medical Examiner, during autopsies, noted no definitive signs of hypothermia from the weekend’s frigid temperatures, Vigil said. A police spokesperson previously had told The Denver Post that investigators didn’t believe either of Saturday’s two deaths were related to the cold snap.

The medical examiner’s office had not publicly identified the four people as of Tuesday evening.

“Sadly, the number of outdoor death cases investigated by our office this weekend are similar to past weekends this month,” Vigil said.

Fentanyl deaths continue to rise

Overdose deaths in Denver in 2023 already have surpassed 2022’s total, according to the medical examiner’s online dashboard. So far this year, 459 people have died of drug overdoses in the city — about 65% due to the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl — up from 2022’s total of 453.

This year’s numbers haven’t reached Denver’s peak, in 2021, of 472 total overdose deaths. But the number of fentanyl overdoses among 2023’s drug fatalities — 299 — already is well above 2021’s subset of 240 fentanyl deaths.

In 2018, only 17 of Denver’s 207 overdose deaths involved fentanyl.


Chart of drug overdose deaths in Denver
Click to enlarge

Statewide, drug overdose deaths peaked at 1,881 in 2021 and fell to 1,799 in 2022, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. So far this year, the state has recorded 1,290 overdose deaths — but given the lag of up to four months in finalized death certificate data, that number is far from complete.

“Year over year, we’ve seen this increase, but I think with the fentanyl crisis, it’s becoming even worse because people don’t always know what substances they’re using when it has fentanyl in it,” said Alderman, of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

The “outside death” designation of the four weekend cases doesn’t necessarily mean they were people experiencing homelessness. Anyone who is found dead outside of a building — on a road or sidewalk, in a car, in a park, in a parking lot — is included in that category, Vigil said.

Outdoor overdose deaths in Denver in 2023 have nearly doubled last year’s total, with 82 people fatally overdosing outside this year compared to 48 in 2022, medical examiner data shows. In 2021, 38 of the city’s overdose deaths occurred outdoors.

Among Denver’s population of people experiencing homelessness, which already has seen an all-time high in deaths this year, drug overdoses are by far the leading cause of death — accounting for 170 of the 256 deaths between January and October.

Chart of Denver's homeless overdose deaths
Click to enlarge

“People are dying”

More work needs to be done to provide services directly to unsheltered homeless people, especially as they are preyed upon by people trying to get them reliant on dangerous drugs,  Alderman said.

“We need to think about doing more in that space in terms of keeping the criminal element away from some of our more vulnerable community members,” she said. “We need more resources into the community to control the flow of substances and to provide people with recovery services when they need them.”

The coalition is working to do some of that, Alderman said, with the Stout Street Health Center at 2130 Stout St. The facility provides a full range of clinical care, from primary care to vision and dental, but also offers substance use and behavioral health programs.

The health center has a street medical team that goes to homeless encampments in Denver to provide services for people at the camps.

The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless recently was awarded a contract by the city to provide services at the micro-communities under Mayor Mike Johnston’s House1000 initiative, and Alderman hopes providing medical services can get homeless people into safer living situations so they can enter recovery.

“But that does nothing to address the crisis we saw over the weekend and we’re seeing every day on the streets,” she said. “Because people are dying.”

Midday Tuesday, the Denver Police Department announced it was conducting another outdoor death investigation, this time in the area of Santa Fe Drive and the South Platte River.

Other resources available in Denver

Vigil, with the Denver health department, said the city has several programs working on the problem of overdoses among people experiencing homelessness.

The Substance Use Navigator Program deploys behavioral health specialists with Denver police specialists to respond to behavioral health needs and link people to resources without legal involvement.

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