Heat-related deaths are increasing. Maricopa County's Chief Medical Examiner explains why

Temperatures are on the rise and so are heat-related deaths and the Maricopa County Chief Medical Examiner is explaining why.

In July alone, the Maricopa County Medical Examiner’s Office admitted twice as many bodies as they usually do.

Dr. Jeff Johnson says half, or more, were heat-related.

"The surge that we saw between July 10 and August 12 is really unprecedented," he said.


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The medical examiner’s office only investigates deaths that are deemed "unnatural," so about 17% of total deaths in the county.

Dr. Johnson says the increase is likely a combination of three things: an increase in temperatures; an increase in the population in Maricopa County; and an increase in homelessness.

"A little over 50% look like they’re experiencing homelessness and that’s pretty consistent with what we’ve seen for the proportion of heat-related deaths since 2020. In the previous four years, it was about 34% and then four years before, it was about 17%," Dr. Johnson said.

These numbers are slightly backdated because it takes the medical examiner’s office some time to rule out all variables to determine the cause of death.


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"It takes us about six weeks on average to resolve a case. Some common misconceptions we run into is that when we bring the body here, and we do an autopsy that that is the end of our investigation. When really it’s the beginning of our investigation," he said.

Dr. Johnson says there aren’t obvious signs that a death is heat-related, which makes it more time-consuming. The complete numbers for the summer will likely be in about a month and a half after the season ends.