Bass asserts ‘matter of life and death’
Los Angeles city leaders say they will tackle a fentanyl addiction crisis that is consuming L.A.’s MacArthur Park, which has become a hub for fentanyl sales and consumption in the midst of the heavily Latino working-class neighborhood of Westlake.
The neighborhood is facing devastating consequences for people who use the synthetic opioid and the community forced to adapt to life around it.
Fentanyl addiction has severely impacted MacArthur Park and Westlake, prompting Los Angeles officials to describe the situation as “devastating.”
“It reinvigorated my fight and our district’s fight to make sure that we can tackle an area that is now ground zero for overdoses,” said Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents MacArthur Park. “We’re experiencing over four overdoses just in that one neighborhood every single day. I feel like the lack of light on our neighborhood and a lack of prioritization is felt on the ground and it is incredibly frustrating especially because of how many people are dying.”
Mayor Karen Bass said the fentanyl epidemic is a “matter of life and death” that necessitates a rapid response.
“The level of addiction happening in areas of our city and the deaths that it is causing are devastating,” Bass said. “We will continue to work closely with partners to bring people inside from the surrounding area and explore ways to improve community safety within MacArthur Park.”
Hernandez wants to convene a working group of stakeholders and service providers, offering police-free alternatives to respond to certain 911 calls, opening a center for harm reduction services, funding a mobile overdose prevention team, launching an overdose prevention campaign in housing developments and providing a new street-cleaning team.
“I have confidence that our council will be in support of our strategies,” said Hernandez. “Where I would like to see more support from is our mayor’s office. I think that she plays an incredibly important role in this.”
One initiative that Bass highlighted is a pilot program to be launched in the coming months that would help connect Angelenos in need of help with residential substance use treatment facilities.
Bass also emphasized the importance of doubling down on existing efforts such as street medicine teams, daily outreach services and supportive housing both in MacArthur Park and across Los Angeles.
“No one should be dying on our streets and all of our neighbors should feel safe and secure walking down the street in their neighborhoods, working in their local businesses and visiting community spaces like parks and libraries,” Bass said.
At a state level both Assemblymember Miguel Santiago (54th District), whose district includes MacArthur Park, and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (59th District) whose constituents include the nearby Skid Row in Downtown L.A., say they are fighting for resources to combat the fentanyl epidemic in MacArthur Park and beyond.
“There have been great outreach efforts in the park to provide housing and substance abuse treatment services, but the truth is more needs to be done,” Santiago said.
Jones-Sawyer said he knew that MacArthur Park was a hub for fentanyl sales, but found the information on the daily struggles of people battling addiction “eye-opening.”
Jones-Sawyer has urged legislators in Sacramento to view the fentanyl epidemic through the lens of a public health crisis and not a criminal justice problem. As chair of the state Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, Jones-Sawyer shelved a series of bills this year that would have introduced harsher sentences for fentanyl dealers. He said the bills would only increase jail populations.
As an alternative approach, Jones-Sawyer introduced the Fighting Fentanyl Bond Act of 2024.