Deaths spike in Pima County, drug overdoses part of deadly problem
Reporter: Marcelino Benito
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Drug overdoses and heart disease: the top killers in Pima County in what was a record breaking year for death in the area.
"We've had more deaths in Pima County than we've had in the past," said Dr. Greg Hess, Chief Medical Examiner.
A lot more death. Almost 1,400 more deaths compared to 2011. That number climbed to more than 9,700 dead. The silver lining: homicides are down 13 percent. Migrant deaths are down too. But overdoses are up.
"We've had more overdose accidental deaths then motor-vehicle accidents," Dr. Hess said.
And the killing culprit is prescription drugs, common painkillers like oxycodone.
"It's become such a huge thing," said Karin Merritt.
Merrit helps run the county's Dispose-A-Med program. It helps get prescription drugs off the streets.
"It can be as bad as a handgun," Merritt said. "You need to keep it locked up and put away."
The numbers show it's worse than a handgun. Almost four times as many bodies made it onto the autopsy table because of pills.
"Most of these overdoses are accidental," Dr. Hess said. "They didn't go in with the intent to die from those drugs."
So we wanted to know what can be done to keep these accidental deaths from happening, to make sure 2013 is far less deadly than 2012. Part of the answer is in your medicine cabinet.
"Do you see the numbers dropping anytime soon?" asked 9OYS reporter Marcelino Benito.
"Not until we do a better job of getting the meds out of the medicine cabinet," said Merritt. "You would not put a bottle of bleach down and say chug, yet we leave the meds where they can get to them."
A lot of eye opening findings in this report including how men fared across the board. And they didn't do too well. Men accounted for significant percentages of all the dead including overdose deaths, homicides and car accidents. If you want to read over the full report, click here.