Straightening out the facts
Dear Editor:A letter to the editor on Oct. 17 by Michael Brylawski contains a misrepresentation of facts gathered from the coroner’s office. Simply taking the number of drug-related deaths and comparing it to our population to derive a “death rate” that can be compared to other cities is unscientific, inaccurate and misleading.First of all the Department of Health and Human Services website Mr. Brylawski cites, quoting death rates from drugs in select cities, was derived over years by full-time medical epidemiologists, physicians and statisticians. The data was painfully researched and compiled in a manner consistent with accepted scientific principles. It is infinitely more complicated than just punching some extrapolated numbers into a calculator.Mr. Brylawski may have done all that with our office’s statistics, but I doubt it. Furthermore, prior efforts to quantify certain types of deaths as they relate to other jurisdictions have been extremely difficult because of our wildly fluctuating population. How many of those deaths were tourists? How many drug-related deaths were due to the fact the person brought their problem with them to Aspen?Over the years I have been involved on the front lines in Pitkin County dealing with not only the deaths but, as an emergency physician, with the drug and alcohol problems that end up in the ER as well. We certainly have our share of deaths and problems, but there is no evidence to suggest ours are out of proportion to the rest of the country’s. I have worked in large city hospitals in Denver, Grand Junction and Oklahoma, and with the chief medical examiner for the state of Oklahoma, where the number of drug and alcohol cases as a percentage of total ER or death cases was much greater than in Pitkin County. That might actually be a valuable number to look at, the percentage of total coroner cases that are drug related. Again, you would have to do the work to see if the case involved our transient or tourist population to gain any real insight.Finally, Mr. Brylawski asks, “What policies can we enact to help deal with our drug and alcohol safety problems?” There are multiple efforts to do just that: the Valley Partnership for Drug Prevention, Aspen Counseling Center, Aspen Medical Foundation Community Forums and others. Members from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, the Pitkin County Coroner’s Office and the medical staff at Aspen Valley Hospital have been front and center in these efforts for years. So the answer to Mr. Brylawski’s question is, get involved in these efforts or come up with your own. Putting a spin on numbers that you are not qualified to interpret to get a message across for political gain is hardly a productive way to help.J. Stevens AyersPitkin County coronerChief of staff, Aspen Valley Hospital
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