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Some death rates in the Mountain West are rising due to fentanyl

On the right of the image are small green packages of fentanyl test strips with “Rapid Response” written on them. They are lying next to a blue card, on the left, that explains how to use them.
Gustavo Sagrero
Boise State Public Radio
Packages of fentanyl test strips lie next to a card that explains how to use them. The tests, themselves, look like little strips of blue, red and white paper.

A new report shows that death rates for people under 40 are surging across the United States, including parts of the Mountain West.

In New Mexico, there were about 188 deaths per 100,000 people in that age group in 2022 – the highest rate in the nation, according to Stateline. The nonprofit news service analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other states with especially high death rates for people under 40 were West Virginia (170 per 100,000), Louisiana and Mississippi (164) and Alaska (163).

In the Mountain West, other triple-digit death rates were in Wyoming (120), Colorado (116) and Nevada (115). Rates were lower in Idaho (92) and Utah (80).

The leading cause of death in most of the Mountain West – and across the country – is accidental drug overdoses. In Idaho and Utah, the top cause is suicide.

Many younger adults are losing their lives to the synthetic opioid fentanyl, said Dahlia Heller, vice president of drug use initiatives at Vital Strategies, a public health advocacy group.

"Because of its potency – 50 times stronger than heroin – overdoses really start to take off," Heller said, noting fentanyl is increasingly showing up in other recreational drugs. "It is putting people at risk of overdose, who may not be aware that they're at risk of overdose because of the drugs that they're using."

She added that the rise in mental health problems since the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more frequent drug use among people under 40.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.