According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Colorado ranks among the top ten states for illegal drug use. During the year 2008-2009, 11.7 percent of Colorado residents used illegal drugs, while the national average for drug use in that year was just over 8 percent.

Marijuana is the drug most commonly used in Colorado, and marijuana addictions account for the majority of admissions to drug treatment facilities in the state. However, high numbers of Colorado residents (4.6 percent of the population) also report using drugs other than marijuana in the past month. The national average for drug use other than marijuana is 3.6 percent.

Deaths Due To Drug Use

Colorado also exceeds the national average for drug-induced deaths. In 2007, 747 people died from causes directly linked to illicit drug use. More people died because of drugs than because of car accidents (593 people) or guns (505 people). While the national rate for drug-induced deaths is 12.7 per 100,000, the state rate is 15.4 per 100,000.

Most Commonly Used Drugs In Colorado

According to the Community Epidemiology Work Group, there are five main drugs of abuse in Colorado:

  • Marijuana: Excluding alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly abused drug in Colorado. In the words of outreach workers in Denver, marijuana use has “exploded" in the city. Medical marijuana dispensaries are supplying large amounts of the drug to street users, and many people smoke marijuana openly throughout Denver. Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, and observers report that medical marijuana cards are easy to acquire.
  • Methamphetamine: Methamphetamine is the second most commonly cited drug in treatment admissions, edging out cocaine for the first time.
  • Cocaine: Cocaine use seems to be declining in the state, but the drug remains prevalent.
  • Heroin: Heroin is the fourth most commonly cited drug in treatment centers and calls to the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. Heroin use seems to be increasing in the state.
  • Other Opioids: This grouping includes all other opioids besides heroin, including morphine, hydrocodone, codeine and oxycodone, and is the fifth most prevalent group of drugs in the state.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Statewide abuse of prescription drugs has increased significantly in recent years. Among the prescription drugs most commonly abused are oxycodone and hydrocodone, most commonly acquired through doctor shopping and fake prescriptions, as well as online pharmacies. In an effort to combat this problem, Colorado initiated the Electronic Prescription Monitoring Program in 2005, which maintains a database of prescriptions for controlled substances.

High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas

Another program designed to help fight illegal drug use is the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program. Seventeen counties within the state have been identified as high traffic areas. The program allocates extra law enforcement resources to these counties and helps to coordinate federal, state and local efforts to stem drug trafficking and related crime.

Overall, the statistics for illicit drug use in Colorado are sobering, with a high number of state residents reporting the use of drugs and suffering from their ill effects.