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Homeless Deaths in LA County: Drug and Alcohol Overdoses Remain Leading Cause in 2022

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health released a report on Thursday highlighting that drug and alcohol overdoses continue to be the leading cause of death among the county's homeless population. In 2022, these overdoses accounted for a staggering 37% of all deaths in this vulnerable group.

The overall mortality rate for people experiencing homelessness rose by 2% last year, reaching 3,282 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 3,215 per 100,000 in 2021. This increase underscores the persistent and growing challenges faced by the unhoused population.

Overdose Deaths: A Persistent Threat

While the rate of overdose deaths leveled off in 2022, the percentage of fatalities involving fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid, continued to rise. Fentanyl's increasing prevalence has made the drug landscape even more dangerous, contributing significantly to the high mortality rate among the homeless.

Key Findings

  • Leading Cause of Death: Drug and alcohol overdoses remain the leading cause of death, accounting for 37% of all fatalities among the homeless population.

  • Rising Mortality Rate: The overall mortality rate for the homeless increased by 2% from 2021 to 2022.

  • Fentanyl's Impact: Although the overall rate of overdoses has stabilized, the proportion of overdose deaths involving fentanyl has escalated, indicating the growing presence of this lethal substance in the drug supply.

Contributing Factors

Several factors contribute to the high rates of overdose deaths among thehomeless population:

  1. Widespread Availability of Fentanyl: The increased availability and use of fentanyl, often mixed with other drugs, has made overdoses more common and more deadly.

  2. Mental Health Issues: Many individuals experiencing homelessness suffer from untreated mental health conditions, which can lead to or exacerbate substance abuse.

Public Health Response

In response to this ongoing crisis, Los Angeles County is implementing several measures.

  1. Harm Reduction Programs: Efforts to expand harm reduction strategies, including the distribution of naloxone (a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses), needle exchange programs, and the establishment of supervised injection sites.

  2. Increased Access to Treatment: Initiatives to improve access to addiction treatment services, such as medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and integrated mental health care.

  3. Educational Outreach: Public health campaigns aimed at educating the homeless about the dangers of fentanyl and other substances, as well as the availability of resources and support services.

  4. Collaboration with Community Organizations: Partnerships with non-profits and community organizations to provide comprehensive support, including housing, healthcare, and substance abuse treatment.


The rise in overdose deaths among Los Angeles County's unhoused population is a public health emergency that demands immediate and sustained action. By expanding harm reduction efforts, improving access to treatment, and addressing the root causes of homelessness, we can begin to reverse this devastating trend.

The next annual report will be published in early 2025, with data through 2023

Lee Phillips


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