Heat-related deaths are rising, and higher temperatures are just one reason.
Public health officials are warning that a spike in heat-related deaths is attributable to not just hotter weather but also “an increase in drug use and homelessness,” according to an article by Phillip Reese in Governing.
“Heat was the underlying or contributing cause of about 1,670 deaths nationwide in 2022, for a rate of about 5 deaths per million residents, according to provisional data from the CDC. That’s the highest heat-related death rate in at least two decades,” Reese explains.
While record temperatures are partly to blame, other factors contribute to the higher rate of deaths. “Substance abuse, especially misuse of methamphetamines, has emerged as a major factor in heat-related illness. Methamphetamines can cause body temperature to increase to dangerous levels, and the combination of meth abuse, heat, and homelessness can be fatal.” With more people facing unsheltered homelessness and housing insecurity, the combination is deadly. “Homeless people represented about 13 percent of California hospitalizations involving a primary diagnosis of heat-related illness from 2017 through 2021, state data shows.”
Another factor: age. “The numbers of elderly residents in California and across America have risen sharply as baby boomers have aged,” and so has their vulnerability to heat-related illnesses. “Advocates and experts called for more cooling centers, more affordable housing, and better workplace safety rules to help get vulnerable populations out of the rising heat.”
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