Summit County sees highest rate of marijuana-related ER visits in the state
Marijuana use for adults in northwestern Colorado increased by nearly 6 percent from 2014 to 2015 according to a study from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.
The report, “Monitoring Health Concerns Related to Marijuana in Colorado in 2016,” was released on Jan. 30, and was put together based off surveys. It looked at marijuana use in adults and children, as well as pregnant women. In the northwestern part of Colorado in 2014, 10.3 percent of adults reported using marijuana in the past month. The same group jumped up to 16 percent the next year.
But Mike Van Dyke, the chief of toxicology for the department, said that there’s just not enough data to really predict true trends in the industry.
“We haven’t really tracked that over time regionally, so it’s possible that it kind of flattens back out next year,” he said. “It’s hard to say right now based on just the little bit of data whether or not that’s a true increase or that’s just an artifact of how the data is collected.”
In different regions across the state, the number of adults who reported using marijuana in the last month has not seen the same increase. He said that the Department of Health plans on doing this same study every two years in the future.
Summit County also had the highest rates in the state for emergency department visits. The report also rated counties for hospitalization numbers. Van Dyke said that the report classifies hospitalization as someone whose condition is severe enough that they need to be admitted to the hospital after the initial visit.
“In general, emergency department visits are less of a long term health issue than a hospitalization,” said Van Dyke. He added that statewide there has been a decrease in hospitalization numbers.
During 2011–13, Summit saw 21 emergency department visits per 1,000 people. That number jumped to 56 per 1,000 during the time period between 2014 and September 2015.
At local facilities, these numbers can be a little harder to judge.
Suzanne Lifgren, the marketing manager for St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, said that while the hospital reports all of their numbers to the department, it is hard to determine whether or not the reason a person comes into the hospital is directly because of marijuana.
While part of this jump could be due to the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014, Van Dyke said that the large amount of tourists and out-of-state residents coming to the county could also have contributed.
“There was a much steeper increase in the number of out-of-state residents that were going to the emergency department as compared to in state,” he said. “You have people coming to Colorado and they’re at high altitude and they use marijuana and they’re not sure what to expect and they end up in the emergency room.”
He added that the higher number of tourist visits also shows how critical marijuana education is for the state. The department recently launched the Good to Know campaign, aimed at teaching tourists about the marijuana laws in Colorado. The state also recently changed packaging laws, making the THC symbol bright red. The change was made in the hopes that children would be less likely to consume a marijuana candy bar.
“We’ve really doubled our efforts over the last year in terms of educating tourists, but I think there’s always more to be done to make sure that people use safely and responsibly,” Van Dyke said.
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