With a rising rate of opioid-involved overdose deaths among unhoused residents, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took action this month to expand the County’s distribution of naloxone and education on how to use it. Thousands of new kits containing Narcan nasal spray will go out to various County service providers and partner groups starting in June.
In January, the County Department of Public Health released a report analyzing causes of death for unhoused Angelenos. The report showed a startling increase in fatal drug overdose (including alcohol). Of the 1,267 deaths of unhoused people in 2019, 552 were attributed to overdose—an 84 percent increase from 2016.
Los Angeles County currently has more than 66,000 unhoused residents, per the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2020 Homeless Count. Among its recommendations, DPH called for the expansion of naloxone distribution to both street- and shelter-based people, with a focus on Black and Brown communities. On May 18, the Board of Supervisors approved that recommendation and set out to enact it.
The County has operated harm reduction services for years, but never with a specific focus on people experiencing homelessness. The motion, authored by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis, also called for expanding syringe service programs and access to medications for opioid use disorder.
“The DPH report made clear that drug overdoses are having a devastating impact on one of our most vulnerable communities,” Kuehl said in a statement. “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.”
Service providers and harm reduction groups will temporarily have a rare abundance of naloxone.
The first shipment of naloxone is expected to arrive early June, according to Shannon Knox, director of education and training at Community Health Project LA. CHPLA has partnered with the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry since 2019, creating the Overdose Education and Naloxone Distribution program to give out kits and train service providers on their use. The expansion of the program will help fill in service gaps that exist across the large county, where people might be miles away from harm reduction groups, Knox told Filter.
One major distribution point thus far has been free vending machines in county jails. People recently released from incarceration are at extremely high risk of overdose.
The Office of Diversion and Reentry reports that altogether, more than 72,000 doses of naloxone were given out since the start of 2020. The new program is set to be funded for at least 10 months, Knox said. One of the biggest issues facing naloxone distribution is the cost: $125 per kit, although LA County gets a state discount of $75 per kit.
Harm reduction groups and other service providers will now have a rare abundance of naloxone, according to Knox, at least for the immediate future. Cost and scarce supply have led to many sites holding onto naloxone to the point it that expires (naloxone can be effective for several years past its expiration date, but for various reasons this is not ideal). Under this expanded program, each site’s stock will be replenished monthly.
A list of sites where free naloxone is available in LA County can be found here.
Photograph via County of Los Angeles