Mike Van Dyke, the chief of toxicology for the state health department, said that the large number of tourists coming to the county could contribute to the high number of marijuana-related ER visits. Pictured: Paramedic John Lock prepares one of the ambulances for any upcoming calls at the start of the day at Evergreen Fire Rescue. (Kathryn Scott, Denver Post)

Summit County, ski resort central, has highest rate of marijuana-related ER visits in Colorado

Marijuana use for adults in northwestern Colorado increased by nearly 60 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. Statewide, the percentage of adults ranged from 13 to 17 percent, compared with the national average of 8 percent.

Summit County also had the highest rates in the state for emergency department visits. The report also rated counties for 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.

While part of this jump could be due to the legalization of recreational marijuana in 2014, Mike Van Dyke, the chief of toxicology for the state health department, said that the large number 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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This story was first published on SummitDaily.com