315 Homeless Deaths Recorded in Multnomah County as the Fentanyl Crisis Deepens
Fentanyl is a disease that has plagued the United States, and especially the state of Oregon. The synthetic drug is not only considered one of the most highly addictive drugs you can get your hands on, but it’s extremely plentiful and super cheap to produce. Because of this, it’s very easy to flood the streets with them, and it was only recently that someone was caught trying to smuggle more than 100 pounds of fentanyl into Portland from California.
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The presence of fentanyl has become very prominent in the western United States, which is alarming because fentanyl is also known for being fairly lethal. It’s very easy to overdose on fentanyl, and as the years pass, we’re only seeing more and more people dying from the synthetic opioid.
People are dying at alarming rates, and the ones most affected are the homeless. Homeless deaths are skyrocketing, and a major chunk of them are due to drug overdoses.
According to Multnomah County’s Domicile Unknown 2022 report released on Wednesday (which includes not only medical examiner statistics, but also vital statistics from funeral directors), a startling 315 homeless deaths have been recorded.
The report has made it clear that between the years of 2018 and 2022, homeless deaths identified by the medical examiner have increased by 29% each year, with 2022 having the worst. With 315 homeless deaths, it shows a 63% increase in deaths of unhoused people recorded in 2021. This is six times larger than the number of deaths counted back in 2010, which is when Multnomah County first began recording this data. Many of these recent deaths have been attributed to the synthetic drug fentanyl.
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When we say that fentanyl deaths have skyrocketed over the few years it’s been prominent on the streets, we really mean it. It started out with zero recorded deaths attributed to fentanyl in 2016, but that began to change soon after. Soon there were 4 fentanyl deaths in 2020, 36 in 2021, and in 2022, a shocking 91 deaths have been attributed to the deadly drug. The synthetic drug makes up a majority of overdose deaths within the homeless population, as there have been 123 recorded deaths in 2022.
Executive Director Kaia Sand constructed the introduction, and she made sure to note that the same number of people who died homeless in 2018 have now died in 2022 with fentanyl being cited as the sole cause of death.
It goes to show just how much of an impact fentanyl has had on our society, with the homeless being the most affected by this disease in our country. In fact, the average lifespan of a homeless individual was 49, which is three decades younger than the average life expectancy within the US. A person who is unhoused is 37 times more likely to die from a drug overdose than the rest of the population.
Following that note, the report has also noted a rise in deaths attributed to homicide, as is the same in Portland. Homeless individuals are 31 times more likely to be the victim of homicide, with a quarter of all homicide victims being unhoused.
Rising even more is the deaths from suicide, which has doubled from 2021. 17 people have died by suicide.
The report makes sure to point to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found that poverty (not homelessness, poverty) increased a person’s risk of death by 42%.
There comes a point where the issue at hand stops becoming about drugs and fentanyl; it was always a homelessness issue. Multnomah county estimated that, on any given night in 2022, at least 5,228 people were unhoused. In comparison, the estimation was 4,000 in 2019.
Kaia Sand said that all this data should inform not only better policy making, but also care for homeless individuals within the county. She made sure to note that there are “multiple intersecting causes” that lead to homelessness, including a lack of affordable housing, a lack of social support systems, racial injustice, mental health issues, substance abuse, and the lack of access to both behavioral and physical health care.
If we want to address opioid deaths, we also need to address the homelessness crisis, because the two go hand in hand.
If you would like to read more for yourself, the entire Domicile Unknown 2022 report can be read on Multnomah County’s website.