Fentanyl Deaths Have Risen 1,208 Percent in L.A. Since 2016

White males with money make up most of the fentanyl deaths in L.A., but the numbers are more complicated than that
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The Los Angeles fentanyl crisis got a massive surge of attention in September when at least seven teens, all students attending a cluster of high schools near Lexington park, overdosed on the poison pills—including 15-year-old Bernstein High School student Melanie Ramos, who died from her overdose and ws—before the 2022-23 school year was even a month old. Now, a new study from county health officials reveals the epidemic is even worse than that string of teen ODs suggested.

Fentanyl deaths soared 1,208 percent in the county between 2016 and 2021, from 109 1,504, according to a report released Tuesday by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

“In 2021,” the researchers state, “methamphetamine and fentanyl were the most common drug types listed as a cause of death in accidental drug overdose deaths in Los Angeles County (LAC), accounting for 56% and 55%, respectively, of all alcohol and other drug overdose deaths.”

The authors also note the “unique risks associated with one-time fentanyl exposure” that are not also common to meth use.

“This explains the unique focus on and need to understand the fentanyl crisis amid broader drug overdose concerns to inform activities to reduce the impact of fentanyl overdoses in our communities,” the researches said.

Hit hardest so far is the 26-39 year-old demo, which had the highest rates of fentanyl overdose deaths (30) and ED visits (13.1) per 100,000 population, while young adults 18 to 25 had the highest hospitalization rate (4.5) in the most recent available data year.

As far as gender, males accounted for 3.9 times more fatal fentanyl overdose deaths than females (23.4 vs. 6.0) in 2021, researches found. Men also accounted for more fentanyl overdose ED visits and hospitalizations than women by 3.3 and 2.3 times, respectively, in 2020.

Fentanyl is also killing a higher number of white people than members of other races, but as a part of the whole, Black people in L.A. are hardest hit by these overdose deaths and related medical issues.

“White residents accounted for the largest number of fentanyl overdose deaths, ED visits, and hospitalizations, followed by Latinx, Black, and Asian residents,” the study authors wrote.

However, they emphasize that “after adjusting for size differences in population, Black residents had the highest rates per 100,000 population for fentanyl overdose deaths (30.6) and hospitalizations (3.2), and the second highest rate of ED visits (6.7) as compared to White residents (deaths: 22.5, ED visits: 8.6, and hospitalizations: 2.7), and Latinx residents (deaths: 11.1, ED visits: 3.4, and hospitalizations: 1.3), and Asian residents (deaths: 2.0, ED visits: 0.6, and hospitalizations: 0.3) in the most recent data year.”

The researches also point out that 48 percent of all fentanyl deaths occurred in the most affluent neighborhoods of L.A. County, with just 8 percent “occurring in the least affluent areas in 2016-2021.”

Again, there’s more to it than raw numbers.

“However,” the study says, “the rate of fentanyl overdose deaths per 100,000 population in the least affluent areas were more than triple than those of the most affluent areas (38.4 vs. 12.3) of LAC in 2021.”

In press conference Tuesday, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said, “The proliferation into prescription drug lookalikes show that four out of 10 pills that are recovered today by the Los Angeles Police Department, and across this country, contain a deadly and fatal amount of fentanyl,” KTLA reports.

Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer also said in a statement, “Unfortunately, in L.A. County, about four people die each day from a fentanyl overdose and this devastating loss touches families all across the county.”


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