There is no denying that addiction is prevalent among the City’s unhoused population. The California Policy Lab at UCLA reports alarming rates of substance abuse by unsheltered homeless. According to UCLA’s data, 75% of the unsheltered self-report a substance abuse condition. While there may be legitimate about debate about whether addiction causes homelessness or vice versa, there is no question that Los Angeles is amidst an addiction crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
In LA, methamphetamine is predominant among those with serious substance abuse disorders. According to Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, 70% of the agency’s addicted clients use meth. According to Dr. Brian Hurley of the County Department of Health Services, meth can make users become psychotic, anxious, and depressed. It can also lead to paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, violent or unpredictable behavior, long-term psychological conditions, organ failure, and death.
Enter yet another culprit: fentanyl. In December 2018, the CDC confirmed fentanyl is the deadliest drug in America. It is 100 times more potent than morphine. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 70,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2019. Nearly 40,000 of those deaths were due to fentanyl, with most of the remainder attributed to methamphetamine and heroin.
Because of its incredible potency, fentanyl is extremely difficult to dose properly and can be lethal at only two milligrams. Narcotic traffickers cut fentanyl into other street drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fake prescription pills. A 2019 DEA report noted that more than one in four seized counterfeit prescription pills contained a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl. Even scarier, dosing straight fentanyl is becoming increasingly more common.
According to a January 2021 report from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, drug overdoses have been the leading cause of death amongst the homeless population since 2017. And, for the combined years of 2017-2019, homeless individuals were 36 times more likely to die of a drug overdose. In the first seven months of 2020, there were twice as many fentanyl overdose deaths as in all of 2019.
Despite the alarming rates of substance abuse and addiction-related deaths among the unsheltered population, for the last decade, Mike Bonin has refused to endorse any interventions that require treatment and focus on recovery. Further, Mike Bonin actively seeks to shrink the LAPD, the one City resource with the ability to go after the traffickers and dealers who spread their poison to people who are sick and in need of real help. If we, as a community, want to stem the tide of addiction and provide meaningful treatment-based solutions to people who need it, then it’s time to change our leadership.
Stay tuned for future updates on this topic. In the meantime, keep doing your best, and I will do the same.
 Fentanyl, Inc., © Ben Westhoff, 2019.