Los Angeles sees over 50% increase in homeless deaths during COVID, but overdoses are leading cause

Drug overdose homeless deaths skyrocketed 78% from pre-pandemic.

Updated: April 24, 2022 - 10:57pm

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People who are homeless died at a 56% higher rate during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic than the previous year, but drug overdoses remain the leading cause, according to a report from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department.

From April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020, Los Angeles County recorded 1,271 deaths of homeless people. The following year – April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021 – homeless deaths increased by 717, up to 1,988 total deaths during that time period.

Drug overdose homeless deaths skyrocketed 78% from pre-pandemic, leaping from 402 to 715 in one year.

"While efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 remain critically important, we must also implement effective strategies that address the other leading causes of death among this vulnerable population, most importantly the tragic continued rise in drug overdose deaths," Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said in a press release.

Coronary Heart Disease is the second leading cause of death for homeless people in Los Angeles County. Deaths by heart disease increased by 29% since before the pandemic, from 239 deaths to 309.

COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death for people experiencing homelessness in LA with 179 deaths total.

Homicides also increased by nearly 50%, from 70 before the pandemic to 104 post-COVID.

"The findings in this report reflect a true state of emergency on the streets across our County,"  First District Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said. "In a civil society, it is unacceptable for any of us to not be profoundly disturbed by the shocking needs documented in this year’s homeless mortality report."

Solis stressed the need to "redouble" efforts to fight the homelessness crisis, with a special focus on drugs.

"As part of our response, it is critical that we address the drug epidemic, particularly the rise of fentanyl on our streets. The availability of Narcan coupled with housing and services is fulcrum to our response. Since 2019, the County’s Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution program has provided overdose prevention education and naloxone to individuals at risk of opioid overdose," she said, adding that she plans on requesting a grant from the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan to fight the crisis.

Meth was the leading cause of overdose deaths both pre and post pandemic, the report stated, contributing to more than 70% of deaths both years.

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