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Housing and Homelessness

Homeless Deaths Keep Rising In LA, Fueled Partly By Fentanyl Overdoses

The number of deaths among people experiencing homelessness has doubled since 2014. (L.A. Department of Public Health)
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Deaths among people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County continued to rise in 2019 and 2020, according to a report out today from the county’s Department of Public Health. There were a record 1,267 homeless deaths recorded in 2019, a 14% increase from 2018. The number has more than doubled since 2014.

The leading cause of death for unhoused Angelenos in recent years has been drug overdose, mostly involving methamphetamine. But county officials say they’re worried about a dramatic uptick in fentanyl overdoses. The synthetic opioid was involved in twice as many overdose deaths among L.A.’s homeless in the first seven months of last year as in all of 2019.

The overall mortality rate among people experiencing homelessness rose only slightly in 2019, after rising steadily by more than 30% in each of the previous four years. That’s because the total number of homeless people in L.A. County also surged, keeping pace with the increase in deaths.

The report, which was delayed due to the health department’s pandemic response, also provides some data for the first seven months of 2020. Between January and July, 929 people died while homeless in L.A. County, compared with 736 people in the same period in 2019. Just 36 of those deaths were caused by COVID-19, while 273 died of an overdose.

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While Public Health has not yet reported on the number of deaths for the remainder of 2020, preliminary numbers from the Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office indicate the county will reach another record-high: 1,383 deaths.

Other leading causes of death for L.A.’s homeless include coronary heart disease and transportation-related injuries. From 2017 to 2019, the unhoused population was 17 times more likely to die of a transportation-related injury than the general public.

Many of the report’s recommendations focus on stopping drug overdoses, including bolstering substance use disorder treatment and supporting legislation to allow supervised drug injection sites.

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