Skyrocketing Deaths Among Homeless Fueled by Overdoses, Not COVID-19

Officials in the country’s second-largest city now say the explosion of deaths among Los Angeles’s homeless population during the pandemic’s first year resulted primarily from drug overdoses.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a new report Friday that shows 1,988 deaths of homeless people from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021. That is up from 1,271 during the previous 12-month period, a 56% increase. But while officials initially believed the spike was due to COVID-19, the 78% surge in fatal drug overdoses is now blamed for most of the jump.

LA Health Department numbers show 179 homeless persons died of COVID-19, but the pre-pandemic year’s total of just over 400 drug fatalities in LA exploded to 715 for the period studied.

Once largely confined to the infamous Skid Row neighborhood, LA’s homeless population is now spread throughout the city. Large tent settlements, cardboard shelters, old RVs and thrown-together shelters are familiar landmarks.

Similar results were found in San Francisco, which suffered double the number of homeless deaths in the year after the pandemic emerged than any other previous year. A study by UC-San Francisco and the city’s Department of Public Health found that the increase is largely attributable to fatal overdoses.

Lack of access to mental health and substance abuse treatment programs due to lockdowns and restrictions are still thought to be factors, but the scourge of fentanyl is hard to overstate. Methamphetamine-related deaths stayed high but at roughly the same rate as the year before. Meanwhile, the involvement of fentanyl in fatal overdoses nearly doubled in Los Angeles to 45%.

Coronary heart disease as the cause of death among LA’s homeless population also showed a marked increase during the first pandemic year. The 309 deaths attributed to this cause are a 30% increase over the year prior, according to this week’s report.

Applying the same stridency to border control and interdiction of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl as to COVID-19 would greatly help reduce the number of wholly preventable deaths. But controlling the border does not play well with Democrats’ constituency, so the deluge of cheap and deadly drugs entering the country is likely to continue unabated.