Our hometown of Los Angeles has been hit with its fair share of hardships over the past year. Not only is the city responsible for some of the nation’s largest COVID-19 numbers, it’s also facing a very serious homelessness crisis. And, in a report recently released by The Los Angeles Times, it appears as though addiction is creating even more havoc for struggling Angelinos. Fentanyl, in particular, has been called out as a major contributor to the homeless deaths across the county.
The Times data comes directly from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Apparently, in the first seven months of 2020, nearly 1,000 homeless people died in the county (which is a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2019). One of the real interesting findings was that, over the past year, it was not COVID-19 that accounted for the majority of these deaths. Instead it was drug overdoses, particularly fentanyl-related, that took the number one spot for Los Angeles homeless fatalities.
The Times quoted specific language from the report, which was very direct about how prevalent addictions are within this population sect.
“Despite the relatively smaller direct impact of COVID-19 … the first seven months of 2020 saw an alarming increase in overdose deaths in Los Angeles’ homeless population,” the report explained. “This increase was driven largely by the more frequent involvement of fentanyl.”
Apparently, of all the homeless overdose deaths recorded, 41 percent were found to have traces of fentanyl in their systems. Methamphetamine was another drug traced back to the overdoses, which was attributed to hundreds of homeless fatalities.
The report went on to prescribe potential solutions for the growing amount of L.A. overdoses. Recommendations included more outreach programs, increased distribution of the OD antidote naloxone and expanding interim housing, among others.
Darren Willett, director of harm reduction at Homeless Healthcare of Los Angeles, spoke to The Times about the findings. He identified drug addiction as a tremendous problem for this community and, truth be told, a major contributor for people becoming homeless in the first place. In Willett’s mind, isolation plays another key role in this problem; as many of the victims were found alone, hidden away from the public.
“Overdose is an absolute plague in the homeless community,” Willett explained. “One of the primary reasons why people are dying from overdoses is that they’re using alone. They don’t have people to call for help, to reverse the overdose. And this something we need to work on changing.”