Fentanyl surpasses meth as main reason behind overdose deaths in Los Angeles County

December 18, 2023by Naomi Cramer

By Grace Toohey
Los Angeles Occasions

LOS ANGELES — Fentanyl has continued to tighten its lethal grip on Los Angeles, with the artificial opioid inflicting the vast majority of deadly overdoses countywide in 2022.

For the primary time in recent times, fentanyl surpassed methamphetamine as the most typical drug listed as a reason behind overdose deaths, in response to a current report from the L.A. County Division of Public Well being. Fentanyl was blamed in nearly 60% of all unintentional drug or alcohol overdoses in 2022, the report mentioned, and has continued to disproportionately kill Black Angelenos.

Overdoses normally elevated once more in nearly each measure from the prior yr, additional escalating a disaster fueled by the opioid epidemic, which has devastated communities throughout the nation.

“It’s completely heartbreaking,” mentioned Amanda Cowan, government director of Neighborhood Well being Undertaking Los Angeles, which supplies companies to individuals who use drugs. The mission’s harm-reduction method tries to attenuate the dangers of drug use, for instance by offering clean-needle applications or training on responding to overdoses.

“These communities are simply being decimated,” she mentioned.

County and educational leaders echoed Cowan’s concern — and none had been stunned by fentanyl’s rising affect on drug deaths.

“We’re nonetheless amid the worst overdose disaster in historical past, and that’s clearly an emergency state of affairs,” mentioned Dr. Gary Tsai, director of the county’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Management program. “We’re doing quite a lot of work to enhance our system, however there’s clearly nonetheless quite a lot of work that we have now to do.”

In 2022, the county recorded 3,220 unintentional overdoses, of which greater than 1,900 had been brought on a minimum of partly by fentanyl, county information confirmed. (A number of drugs may be listed as the reason for an overdose loss of life.) Since 2016, overdoses in L.A. County have elevated nearly threefold, and there have been about 200 extra overdose deaths in 2022 than in 2021.

The most important variety of fentanyl overdose deaths had been recorded amongst white Angelenos and in prosperous areas, however when accounting for inhabitants, Black folks and people dwelling in higher-poverty areas died of fentanyl overdoses at considerably greater charges. The deadly overdose loss of life price for Black residents was greater than thrice that of Latinx Angelenos in 2022, and nearly two occasions that of white residents — disparities which have continued to widen over the previous few years. Nonetheless, the speed of hospitalizations for fentanyl overdoses had been comparable amongst white and Black Angelenos.

“Within the case of race/ethnicity, Black folks account for 8% of the [county] inhabitants, and disproportionately accounted for 21% of fentanyl overdose deaths in 2022,” the report mentioned.

Ricky Bluthenthal, a professor of inhabitants and public well being sciences at NZC’s Keck Faculty of Drugs, referred to as the disparities in deaths by race worrying, particularly as they’ve solely worsened in recent times. However he mentioned that it’s not an issue distinctive to L.A., and that it requires focused methods to make sure sources are reaching these in most want.

“It speaks to a nationwide problem that we have now in the USA, associated to creating positive that each treatment for opiate use dysfunction and naloxone is available for individuals who stay in predominantly African American and Latino neighborhoods,” Bluthenthal mentioned. Naloxone — mostly used as a nasal spray beneath the model identify Narcan — is the life-saving treatment that may block the consequences of opioids, reversing overdoses.

Tsai mentioned the disproportionate impact of fentanyl on Black Angelenos could also be partly compounded by different points, together with the truth that Black individuals are disproportionately experiencing homelessness in L.A., and deadly overdoses are the main reason behind loss of life for unhoused folks.

He additionally mentioned {that a} main threat issue of overdose loss of life is utilizing drugs alone, which may happen extra steadily when dwelling on the road.

The report additionally discovered that areas the place greater than 30% of residents lived in poverty had overdose loss of life charges nearly double these of teams with decrease poverty charges.

“The widening inequities between under-resourced and extra prosperous teams underscore the necessity to goal prevention efforts to these at highest threat,” the report mentioned.

Consultants agree that Los Angeles County has made important strides on this concern in some methods, most notably with efforts to distribute naloxone in the previous few years, giving 1000’s of doses to neighborhood teams, jails, healthcare suppliers, and particularly those that work with folks experiencing homelessness or who might use or be round drug use. The overdose reversal spray has even been put in public faculties and been handed out to these leaving jail.

However Cowan mentioned there are nonetheless many gaps and shortcomings, together with a must put extra deal with hurt discount, remedy, housing and psychological well being — all points that intersect with substance use.

“You’re feeling such as you’re screaming right into a void quite a lot of time,” Cowan mentioned. “We hold forgetting that every one of this intersects with so many various issues, and we hold Band-Aiding our method by this. It’s a piecemeal method, and that’s by no means going to work.”

She want to see officers deal with the issue just like the disaster it’s, however doesn’t see that taking place except folks begin seeing drug use not as an “particular person failing, however a structural and societal concern.”

Fentanyl has solely been routinely examined for in L.A. County since 2016 — when 109 deaths had been attributable to the artificial opioid. In 2022, fentanyl brought on greater than 1,900 overdoses, an nearly 1,700% improve in simply six years, in response to the report.

“We face this actually dramatic change within the illicit drug provide; wanting on the determine over time, it kind of makes you need to cry,” Bluthenthal mentioned.

His analysis discovered that heroin in L.A. has been largely changed by fentanyl, which is 50 occasions stronger.

“This transition is wreaking havoc on folks,” he mentioned.

Bluthenthal additionally referred to as for extra harm-reduction applications, like one which supplies oxygen in Skid Row to assist stabilize individuals who overdose, and extra accessible remedy for these with substance-use issues.

“Our capability to offer methadone to the individuals who need it and may benefit from it’s a lot lower than the demand for it,” he mentioned, noting that methadone clinics — which give treatment for folks with opioid-use issues — stay too strict and restricted.

He mentioned he would additionally prefer to see the enlargement of “contingency administration applications” that present monetary incentives to individuals who keep off stimulant drugs like methamphetamine. Such applications have launched throughout the state in two dozen counties, together with L.A., beneath a brand new pilot program funded by Medi-Cal reimbursements.

“You can also make remedy extra available to folks. You can also make positive when folks use, there’s naloxone obtainable, or there are these hotline companies,” mentioned Bluthenthal, who praised the work of 1 such hotline just lately featured on WBEZ Chicago’s “This American Life” whose operators name 911 if somebody utilizing drugs stops responding to them.

Tsai mentioned there’s some purpose to stay hopeful. Overdose deaths amongst children fell for the primary time in two years in 2022, and the speed of year-to-year will increase in total deadly overdoses dropped considerably — which Tsai hopes might sign a plateau in overdose deaths, although it’s too quickly to say.

“On the fentanyl entrance, we is likely to be slowing down, simply wanting on the numbers, however there’s nonetheless so many issues that may occur between now and once we get the 2023 information,” he mentioned. “All it takes is one other stronger substance to return into the drug provide for that quantity to then shoot up.”

In simply six years, fentanyl has turn into the distinguished driver of opioid overdose deaths, going from inflicting about 20% of deadly opiod overdoses in 2016 to inflicting nearly all of them — 92% — in 2022.

Officers have already warned about different artificial opioids much more potent than fentanyl which have been linked to overdose deaths throughout the nation.

One other concern is xylazine, which isn’t an opioid however remains to be harmful. Earlier this yr, legislation enforcement officers in Los Angeles confirmed the flesh-eating drug was present in a minimum of 4% of seized fentanyl and had been linked to a minimum of one 2021 loss of life.

“Each considered one of these deaths is somebody’s mother, dad, son, brother, uncle, lover. … Each considered one of them is a tragedy,” Bluthenthal mentioned. “And we will do issues, extra issues, to stop them — and we must always, in order that we have now fewer of those tragedies subsequent yr.”


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by Naomi Cramer

Auckland Lawyer for FIRST TIME Offenders Seeking to Avoid a Conviction. Family Law Expert in Child Care Custody Disputes. If you are facing Court Naomi will make you feel comfortable every step of the way.  As a consummate professional your goals become hers, with customer service as our top priority. It has always been Naomi’s philosophy to approach whatever you do in life with bold enthusiasm and pure dedication. Complement this with her genuine passion for equal justice and rights for all and you have the formula for success. Naomi is a highly skilled Court lawyer having practised for more than 20 years. She serves the greater Auckland region and can travel to represent clients throughout NZ With extensive experience, an analytical eye for detail, and continuing legal education Naomi’s skill set will maximise your legal rights whilst offering a holistic approach that best fits your individual needs. This is further enhanced with her high level of support and understanding. Naomi will redefine what you expect from your legal professional, facilitating a seamless experience from start to finish.   Her approachable and adaptive demeanor serves her well when working with the diverse cultures that make up the Auckland region. Blend her open and honest approach to her transparent process and you can see why she routinely delivers the satisfying results her clients deserve. If you want to maximise your legal rights, we recommend you book an appointment with Naomi today so she can detail the steps for you to achieve your goals. 

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