By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Deaths among the homeless population have risen sharply due to drug overdoses, the county Department of Public Health said Thursday.

Drug overdoses have been the leading cause of death among the homeless in LA County since 2017, increasing 84% between 2016 and 2019. According to the county, a person experiencing homelessness is 36 times more likely to die of a drug overdose than a person in the general population.

The findings were included in the county’s annual report on mortality among the homeless. The report noted that the overall mortality rate increased only slightly even as the homeless population grew, but drug overdose mortality increased substantially during the same time.

The report released Thursday only included data for the first seven months of 2020. But it showed that deaths in January to July from overdoses were up 33.2%, from 205 in 2019 to 273 in 2020.

County officials say methamphetamine is the drug most frequently involved in overdose deaths, but fentanyl-related deaths also increased significantly in 2019, then doubled during the first seven months of 2020.

Public health officials say they are taking steps to minimize overdose deaths among the homeless, including expanding syringe exchange programs and distributing naloxone and fentanyl test strips; increasing access to supportive housing, launching a methamphetamine task force and promoting the use of medications for addiction treatment.