LA’s Homeless Population Is Being Devastated By Meth

By Kelly Burch 07/03/19

“Meth puts you in one of the deepest holes to climb out of,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore.

LA man without housing about to cross the street

Mark Casanova estimates that 70% of the clients that he works with at Homeless Health Care Los Angeles are addicted to meth, a drug that wrecks their physical and mental health and makes it more difficult to connect them with services. 

“It’s way cheaper, it lasts longer, you can smoke it or inject it, it’s easy to get,” Casanova told The Los Angeles Times, speaking about why homeless Californians are turning to meth much more than opioids. 

In LA’s infamous Skid Row, meth addiction is a plague that contributes to crime and disruption, and pulls people further away from the social fabric that could help them get housing. 

The LAPD Weighs In

“Meth puts you in one of the deepest holes to climb out of,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore. “It rots people from the inside out and absolutely owns their lives, and they will do anything in order to exist on it and pursue it.”

Moore is fighting meth addiction through attacking the supply chain while others, including Dr. Susan Partovi, are taking a harm-reduction approach, working with needle exchanges and other public health programs. 

Meth's Dark Toll

“Crystal meth is the plague of our society,” said Partovi, who once worked at county jails and now works at a needle exchange. “I was seeing 20- and 30-year-olds who had heart attacks and heart failure, and people with pulmonary hypertension who will need lung transplants. There were people who’d had strokes in their 30s.”

Brian Hurley, head of addiction medicine for LA County’s Department of Health Services, said that meth use causes similar symptoms to mental illness, so it can be difficult to tell whether someone needs mental health treatment or addiction treatment. 

“Meth is a huge driver of mental health issues because when you use meth, you can become psychotic and anxious and feel depressed,” he explained. 

Despite the immense challenges, some people in LA’s homeless population do manage to get sober. Sean Romin works as an addiction specialist and has been sober for 15 years. Given his personal experience, he feels empathy for the people still using. 

“No matter how down or how vulnerable or depressed you feel, meth has the tendency to just get rid of all that in a way that drinking or crack can’t do,” he said. “For eight, 10, 12 hours, you can feel like a normal human being. You can feel like there’s hope.”

Some people, like Tommy Lee, 53, are able to tap into that hope long term. Lee, who is in recovery, is no longer using and was able to get into temporary housing. 

“I got to where I was tired, my body was hurting, I couldn’t sleep and my heart was getting weak,” he said. “I’m still young and I want to get my life back. I’m trying my best.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.