News Release

Homelessness and Opioid Deaths


Deaths among people experiencing homelessness in Denver have spiked nearly 50 percent since last year. More than half of the deaths of unhoused people in the city this year were linked to fentanyl overdose. About 70 percent of the overall deaths in the homeless population in Denver were due to drugs. 

    Alderman is the chief communications and public policy officer at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH), which works toward the prevention of homelessness throughout Colorado.

Alderman told the Institute for Public Accuracy: The fentanyl crisis among people experiencing homelessness in Colorado is “pretty startling. The number of people that have died on the streets is up substantially from this time last year. A large portion [of those deaths] are overdoses, and a large percentage of those are from fentanyl.”

Why are these numbers spiking? “People who are misusing opioids or who have substance use disorder are coming into contact with fentanyl more and more, whether they know it or not, leading to overdoses and deaths. Unfortunately, people in the cycle of homelessness are without resources. The level of desperation and anxiety and depression is exacerbated, and people need to self-medicate for [those conditions]. They also have the least resources, so no opportunity to know where the substances are coming from. They’re getting them on the street.”

“The criminalization aspect is also troubling,” Alderman added. Colorado passed a fentanyl criminalization bill in 2022 that allows police and prosecutors to bring a felony charge against anyone possessing more than 1 gram of the drug. 

CCH is a proponent of safe overdose prevention sites. The organization fought for a bill that would have allowed Colorado cities to authorize those sites, but the campaign died in committee in April. Alderman said that harm reduction policies are “more politically difficult right now. We haven’t made much progress because of the stigma and fear around substance use disorders.”