Routt County tourists continue visiting ER for marijuana use |

Routt County tourists continue visiting ER for marijuana use

Teresa Ristow

Steamboat Springs has become a tourist attraction for prospective marijuana users, some of whom end up in emergency rooms.

— A new report shows a correlation between the legalization of recreational marijuana and an uptick in emergency room visits for complications associated with the drug’s use, particularly in Routt County.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment's report, "Monitoring Health Concerns related to Marijuana in Colorado in 2016" was released in late January and uses marijuana-related hospital billing codes to count the number of visits related to use of marijuana, which was legalized recreationally in 2014.

According to the report, 74 people visited an emergency room in Routt County between 2011 and 2013 for something related to marijuana consumption, a rate of 17 per 1,000 people, the second-highest rate among Colorado, counties behind Summit County, according to the report.

In 2014 and through September 2015, another 40 people visited the emergency room for marijuana use, a number the report concluded led to a higher rate of visits than between 2011 and 2013.

"The typical incidents tend to overwhelmingly involve tourists, but locals do have problems, too," said Dr. David Wilkinson, medical director of the Emergency Department at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Wilkinson said nearly all the incidents involve edible marijuana, and he's personally never seen anyone enter the ED for a marijuana-related issue that didn't involve edible marijuana products.

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Wilkinson described a typical visit by using an example of two couples in their 60s who visited Steamboat Springs from out of state to try marijuana.

"There's clearly a marijuana destination component to Steamboat Springs," Wilkinson said.

One woman came into the ED with paranoia after becoming more high than she intended, Wilkinson said, and the woman's husband was distraught because he had "killed his wife."

Meanwhile, the other couple was sitting down eating ice cream, Wilkinson said.

Most people who come to the ED with a negative reaction to marijuana are often naïve users, who become paranoid after not understanding what's happening to their body.

"They get extremely anxious, they're hyperventilating, they're over-emotional," Wilkinson said.

While he doesn’t advocate against marijuana use, Wilkinson said he thinks the community has a responsibility to more thoroughly educate people, particularly children, about the drug.

Due to recreational legalization, children are making judgments at an earlier age about what they think of marijuana and whether they'll try it, Wilkinson said.

"There's clearly a community and a public responsibility to begin to provide some funding for education, especially in the middle and elementary schools," he said. "I really, really am committed to the idea that this community needs to provide education," Wilkinson said. "We have an opportunity to put the message out."

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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