Driven primarily by fentanyl overdoses, the rate of deaths among homeless people in Los Angeles County spiked upward by 55% between 2019 and 2021, according to a report released Friday, May 12, by the county Department of Public Health.
According to the report, the mortality rate among the homeless from all causes in 2019 was 2,056 per 100,000, but that rate rose to 3,183 per 100,000 in 2021, the most recent figures available. In terms of actual numbers, 1,289 homeless people in the county died in 2019, while 2,201 died in 2021.
Drug overdoses were identified as the leading cause of death among the homeless, accounting for 37% of all fatalities in 2020 and 2021 combined. That equates to about two deaths per day on average, according to the county. The rate of deaths among the homeless attributed to overdoses doubled between 2019 and 2021, the report found.
The percentage of overdose deaths attributed to the opioid fentanyl nearly tripled in that same span, going from 20% in 2019 to 58% in 2021. The county noted that in 2021, 71% of all fentanyl deaths among the homeless also involved methamphetamine.
“This report underscores the enormous destruction fentanyl is causing our communities,” county Supervisor Lindsey Horvath said in a statement. “To know that people experiencing homelessness are 39 times more likely to die of a drug overdose compared to the overall population of L.A. County is yet another painful reminder of the harm our unhoused neighbors experience, and why we must continue to move with urgency to address the crisis on our streets. We need to get people inside, in treatment, and supported with wraparound services. We also need to expand the availability of (anti-overdose medication) Narcan for all who serve the public to use as a vital, life-saving tool.”
The second leading cause of death among the homeless in 2021 was coronary heart disease. According to the county, heart disease accounted for 14% of deaths among the homeless in 2020 and 2021 combined, equating to about five per week.
The third leading cause was traffic injuries, followed by homicide and COVID-19.