Drug Overdoses Drive Homeless Deaths to Record Levels in Oregon’s Multnomah County
Tents line the sidewalk in Portland, Ore., Dec. 9, 2020. According to an annual report released by regional officials on Dec. 20, 2023, fentanyl and methamphetamine drove a record number of homeless deaths last year in Oregon’s Multnomah County, home to Portland. (AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer)
There were a record number of deaths among homeless people in Oregon’s Multnomah County, home to Portland, last year, with drug abuse being a key driver.
The county’s annual report found that at least 315 homeless people died in 2022 in the Portland area.
“Nearly half of all deaths were from unintentional injury; drug overdoses accounted for 85% of those deaths, or 123 total. Methamphetamine was an underlying cause of death (with or without other drugs) in 81% of all overdoses. Fentanyl also contributed to a large proportion of overdoses deaths (74%),” the report found.
Kaia Sand, the executive director of Street Roots, a newspaper that covers homelessness-related issues, has worked on the annual reports for several years; her response to this year’s edition highlights the devastating impact fentanyl has on the population.
“The first year I worked on this report — 2016 — fentanyl was not associated with any deaths. In 2020, four deaths were tracked to fentanyl, and by 2021, that number rose to 36 deaths. This year, the number skyrocketed to 91 deaths,” Ms. Sand said.
“In other words, about the same number of people who died while experiencing homelessness for any reason in 2018 died this year with fentanyl alone as a cause of death. Fentanyl poisoning is killing people across North America.”
The figures also reflect the dire consequences of living outside, coupled with an increased risk of death, as homelessness in the United States has sharply risen to record levels by a staggering 12 percent this year alone.
People experiencing homelessness are six times more likely to die from any causes than the general county population, the report said. However, the number of drug overdoses and homicides far exceeds this number by 37 and 32 times, respectively.
Moreover, homeless people were also 45 times more likely to die from traffic-related incidents due to a large number of them living near roadways. The report found that 14 people died as a result of such causes last year, including Angela Boyd, who fell victim to a hit-and-run in southeast Portland.
To commemorate her death, her brother, Jake Ausmes, attended a news conference for the report. Mr. Ausmes described it as an awful situation that should get as much exposure as possible, adding he is hopeful new developments in the case will help achieve this.
He said his family intends to offer a $2,500 reward to find the person responsible for the hit-and-run.
Another contributing factor to homeless deaths is violence, with around a quarter of homicides in Portland in the same year involving homeless people, the report found.
Twenty-five homeless people died by homicide in 2022, mostly by firearms. This accounts for just under 10 percent of homeless fatalities overall, while the number of suicides more than doubled from the previous year to 17.
This year’s report also included hospital deaths and data from the county medical examiner. This figure was not included previously and likely contributed to the over 60 percent increase in homeless deaths compared with the year before, which saw around 200 homeless people die.
However, according to county officials, a record number of homeless deaths would have been recorded this year regardless, as the report cites only 66 deaths recorded by hospitals in addition to 249 homeless deaths recorded by the medical examiner.
According to last year’s federal count, homelessness affected more than 5,000 people in the county in 2022.
650,000 Homeless in US
On a national level, more than 650,000 people were homeless as of January 2023, federal numbers show, marking an increase of more than 70,000 people from the year before.
According to federal officials, much of this increase was down to soaring rents and a decline in coronavirus pandemic assistance.
Much of this figure was enhanced by people becoming homeless for the first time, as indicated by recent estimates.
The Associated Press contributed to this article
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