May 30, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

Los Angeles County Reports Slight Plateau in Homelessness-Related Mortality Rates

Report Shows Slight Increase in Overall Mortality Rate but Signals Slowing of Deaths

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has unveiled its fifth annual report detailing mortality rates among individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, showing a slight increase in overall mortality rate from 2021 to 2022, but also indicating a welcome leveling off compared to previous years.

The report, which covers the years 2021 to 2022, reveals that the overall mortality rate among individuals experiencing homelessness increased by just 2%, rising from 3,215 per 100,000 people to 3,282 per 100,000 people. This marks a significant slowdown compared to the devastating 56% increase observed from 2019 to 2021.

The recent stabilization in the overall mortality rate is largely attributed to several factors, including a plateauing of drug overdose deaths, which have been the leading cause of death among people experiencing homelessness for the past six years. Additionally, there was a notable decline in COVID-19 mortality rates during the same period.

Efforts to combat drug overdoses saw a significant boost, with the distribution of naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal medication, increasing by two-and-a-half-fold in communities most affected by fentanyl overdoses. This surge in distribution led to nearly double the number of reported naloxone-induced overdose reversals, contributing to the observed leveling-off of overdose mortality rates in 2022.

Leading Causes of Death

Drug and alcohol overdose remained the leading cause of death among individuals experiencing homelessness in 2022, constituting 37% of all deaths. Despite the stabilization of overdose mortality rates, the percentage of overdose deaths involving fentanyl continued to rise, indicating a persistent risk for individuals using drugs while unhoused.

Coronary heart disease ranked as the second leading cause of death, accounting for 12% of deaths. While there was a slight increase in mortality rates from 2020 to 2022, there was a notable decrease during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

Transportation-related injuries, homicide, and suicide also featured prominently among the leading causes of death. Transportation-related injuries, which accounted for 8% of deaths, saw a plateau in mortality rates in 2022 after steadily increasing in previous years. Homicide rates reached their highest levels since monitoring began, with firearms being the primary cause of death in two-thirds of cases.

Suicide rates remained relatively stable overall but nearly doubled among individuals aged 18-29 from 2020 to 2022, with this age group experiencing the highest suicide rate in 2022.

The report also highlighted a substantial decrease in COVID-19 mortality rates in 2022, removing COVID-19 from the list of top 10 causes of death among unhoused individuals.

Comparison to General Population

The report underscored significant disparities in mortality rates between individuals experiencing homelessness and the general LA County population. For the years 2021 and 2022 combined, individuals experiencing homelessness were nearly four times more likely to die than the general population. This mortality gap has widened since previous analyses, highlighting ongoing challenges in addressing health disparities among unhoused individuals.

Specific causes of death, including overdose, homicide, and traffic-related injuries, showed even greater disparities compared to the general population, underscoring the urgent need for targeted interventions and support for individuals experiencing homelessness.

The findings from the report provide valuable insights into the complex health challenges faced by individuals experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County, informing ongoing efforts to address health equity and improve outcomes for vulnerable populations.

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