The County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to reduce overdoses among people experiencing homelessness by expanding proven harm reduction strategies. LA County already operates harm reduction programs including Medication-Assisted Treatment, syringe programs, and naloxone (a medication that reverses opioid overdose), but until now, has not had a program specifically targeted for people experiencing homelessness. A recent Department of Public Health (DPH) report analyzing mortality among people experiencing homelessness documented a steep 84% increase in overdoses in the last few years.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) — the use of medications, coupled with counseling and behavioral therapies — has been proven clinically effective in treating substance use disorders. MAT can increase retention in treatment and patients’ ability to gain and maintain employment, reduce the need for inpatient detox, improve birth outcomes among pregnant women, sustain recovery, and reduce opioid overdose. Decades of research on syringe programs demonstrate that they are effective and do not increase illegal drug use, while reducing the transmission of HIV and other infections and protecting public health by facilitating the safe disposal of used needles. New users of syringe programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment and about three times more likely to stop using drugs than those who don’t. Since January 2020, The County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry has distributed more than 72,000 doses of naloxone, saving more than 6,000 lives.
“For years, The County has operated similar life-saving, harm reduction services,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, author of the motion, “but we have never targeted people experiencing homelessness. The DPH report made clear that drug overdoses are having a devastating impact on one of our most vulnerable communities. This motion will expand proven programs and make sure that our unhoused residents can access them. It represents another step forward as we build a ‘care first’ system for all of our residents.”
“The data is clear – drug overdoses continue to be the leading cause of death among people experiencing homelessness and as such, Los Angeles County is committed to providing community-based and dignified care in line with our ‘Care First, Jails Last’ approach,” shared Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair, Hilda L. Solis, Supervisor to the First District. “This issue disproportionately impacts Black and Latinx residents and in our efforts to address these racial inequities, community-based efforts like overdose prevention programming and increased access to naloxone will help reduce deaths by overdose by training homeless service providers and people experiencing homelessness for situations in which an overdose may occur.”