“Colorado’s Death Toll in 2022: COVID-19 Declines, Overdoses Remain High”

By | August 13, 2023

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The death toll in Colorado in 2022 was lower than in the first two years of the pandemic, but it remains unclear if this signifies a transition or a new normal. The decrease in death rates was mostly due to fewer COVID-19 deaths, although deaths from other diseases, particularly drug overdoses, remained high. It is yet to be seen if these trends have continued into 2023. COVID-19 deaths are expected to decrease this year, but the outlook for other causes of death is less clear. The state’s mortality rates remained 12% higher than pre-pandemic levels, with COVID-19 and drug overdoses accounting for the majority of the increase. Other major causes of death, such as cancer and strokes, saw slightly lower mortality rates in 2022. Factors contributing to the increase in deaths from other causes include delayed care during earlier phases of the pandemic and random variation from year to year. Colorado’s mortality trends aligned with the rest of the country in 2022 and are expected to continue in 2023. Deaths among children under 10 decreased, while deaths among people aged 10-17 increased due to homicides and accidents. Deaths from overdoses, particularly from fentanyl poisoning, increased among older teens. Substance use among young people remains a concern, and adults should be prepared to respond to overdoses with naloxone. Deaths from liver disease also increased, possibly due to increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic. Deaths from COVID-19 remained the largest contributor to increased deaths among those over 45. Men and people of color saw larger improvements in mortality rates in 2022 compared to previous years. However, it is still too early to determine if Colorado’s efforts to promote health equity have reduced mortality disparities. Meg Wingerter reported

In 2022, fewer people in Colorado died compared to the first two years of the pandemic, but it remains uncertain whether the elevated death toll from the previous year indicates a transition or a new normal. The decrease in death rates can mainly be attributed to a significant drop in COVID-19 deaths, although there was an increase in deaths from other diseases, particularly overdose deaths which remained high above pre-pandemic levels. The full extent of these trends in 2023 is still unknown due to the delayed mortality data. However, it is expected that COVID-19 deaths will be lower this year as there has not been a comparable wave to the omicron-driven surge in 2022. However, trends for other causes of death are less clear.

In 2022, Colorado recorded 46,751 deaths, which was about 1,500 fewer than the previous year. However, even after adjusting for population growth and aging, the mortality rate remained 12% higher than before the pandemic. COVID-19 accounted for over two-fifths of this increase, while accidental drug overdoses were responsible for about 15%. Despite fewer deaths from these causes compared to 2021, other major causes of death such as chronic respiratory diseases, transportation accidents, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease showed slightly higher mortality rates in 2022.

Factors such as delayed care during the earlier phases of the pandemic and the decreased number of COVID-19 deaths may have contributed to the increase in deaths from chronic diseases. Additionally, random variation from year to year can also influence mortality rates. Nationally, mortality rates in the first three months of 2023 remained above pre-pandemic levels, but it appeared to drop to normal levels in the second quarter. Summer data will be needed to confirm if the excess deaths have truly subsided.

In terms of age groups, fewer children under 10 died in Colorado in 2022 compared to the years before the pandemic, mainly due to a reduction in infant deaths and fatal injuries among older children. However, deaths increased among people between 10 and 17 due to a rise in homicides, accidents (including drug overdoses), and a small decrease in suicide deaths. Parents can help reduce deaths in this age group by making it more difficult for youth to access firearms. Overdose deaths in older teens, particularly from fentanyl poisoning, also contributed to the increase in overdose deaths. While there was a small drop in suicide deaths, young people are still struggling with substance use, highlighting the need for more adults to have naloxone on hand to respond to overdoses.

For adults under 25, the likelihood of dying by suicide decreased, but the risks of homicide, overdoses, and other accidents increased. Overdoses and chronic liver disease deaths were the biggest increases for those between 25 and 44. Alcohol-related deaths have been rising in younger people nationwide, which may have contributed to the increase in liver disease deaths. These trends are not expected to reverse in the near future, as deaths related to overdoses, liver disease, and suicide have been rising since the early 2010s.

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COVID-19 remained the largest contributor to increased deaths among people over 45, although it dropped to the fifth leading cause of death in Colorado in 2022. While COVID-19 deaths are expected to decrease further this year, it still plays a significant role in overall mortality.

In terms of demographics, men and people of color in Colorado saw larger improvements in mortality rates compared to women and white individuals, respectively, in 2022. Men experienced a bigger drop in death rates after two years of widening gaps driven by COVID-19 and overdoses. All ethnic groups in Colorado saw a decrease in death rates, except for those identified as multiracial, although the number of deaths in this group is too small to determine if it’s a trend. White Coloradans had the smallest decrease in mortality rates and had more cause-of-death categories with increases, partially offsetting the drop in COVID-19 deaths. American Indian and Pacific Islander Coloradans had the largest increases in life expectancy, but still had shorter lives on average compared to other groups. Men also had a larger increase in life expectancy or a smaller decrease for the multiracial population, but still died younger. These patterns may be a result of men and people of color being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, leading to more improvement as mortality rates returned to normal.

It is still too early to determine if Colorado’s increased investment in promoting health equity has contributed to reducing mortality disparities. Efforts to close health gaps have been made by the state health department and various programs. The hope is that society will recover and potentially be in a better state than before the pandemic..

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