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Fentanyl, Not Climate Drives Heat Deaths

Fentanyl, Not Climate Drives Heat Deaths

As temperatures here in Breaking Battlegrounds home state of Arizona climb into the triple digits, it’s time for the annual barrage of “climate change is killing people” stories about Arizonans who died of heat exposure. The latest comes courtesy of Scientific American

“Relentless heat led to 645 deaths last year in Maricopa County, the most ever documented in Arizona. The soaring number of heat mortalities — a 1,000 percent increase over 10 years — comes as temperatures reach new highs amid exploding eviction rates in the Phoenix area, leading to a collision of homelessness and record-setting heat waves.”

The story, like virtually all the others that have been written on this topic is pure politics – a way to use people dying in the street to push for additional funding for low-income housing and climate change initiatives. Except…the issue is a lot less about housing and climate change than it is about fentanyl and fudged data. As the article notes: “Almost half of the victims last year were homeless — 290 people. Twenty died at bus stops, others were in tents, and an unrecorded number of people were found on the pavement, prone as if on a baking stone. More than 250 other people — the elderly, ill and unlucky — died in uncooled homes, on bikes or just going for a walk.”

Fentanyl, like all opioids, raises the human body’s internal temperature and reduces the ability of that body to regulate temperature. It also basically turns people into drooling zombies unable to comprehend the world around them. Combine those factors with triple digit heat, and you end up with a lot of people nodding out on fentanyl while their body temps spike in the heat. You can basically track the increase in heat deaths to the replacement of heroin and oxycontin with fentanyl a few years ago. 

But there’s another element hidden in the previous quote: a change in how heat deaths are recorded… “More than 250 other people — the elderly, ill and unlucky — died in uncooled homes, on bikes or just going for a walk…”

In 2020, the government stopped counting only heat deaths where temperature was the primary cause, and added a second category of “heat-related” deaths. You can see the most recent chart for the state of Arizona here. Note that the data in this report from 2011-2020 is an estimate based on census data, while subsequent years are direct-data as a result of the change in reporting. Previously, those bike riders, walkers, etc. – who are dying from the usual causes of heart attacks, strokes, and the like – are now counted as heat deaths if the Heat Index exceeds 90 degrees. 

Subtract the significant increase in fentanyl-related heath deaths and the change in reporting, and – while every unnecessary death is a tragedy – the increase in heat deaths in Arizona isn’t statistically significant, and largely tracks the population increase in the state. 

Note: the opinions expressed herein are those of Sam Stone only and not his co-host Chuck Warren or Breaking Battlegrounds’ staff.

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