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Mar 19, 2013 12:30 PM by Rebecca Taylor

Murders in Pima County down but total deaths up

TUCSON - There's a mystery at the Pima County Medical Examiner's Office.

It's not about a body, rather hundreds of bodies and why they're dying.

A new report shows there were more than 9,742 deaths in Pima County last year, that's up from 8,383 in 2011.

Also last year, more than 300 people died from drug overdoses, mostly oxycodone and morphine related.

Cardiovascular disease was the top cause of death followed by chronic alcohol abuse.

With so many deaths in 2012, medical examiners had to change the way they do exams to increase capacity.

"So this is the autopsy area, essentially in Pima County we have two autopsy stations," describes Greg Hess, Pima County's Chief Medical Examiner.

He says prior to 2012 they performed 35 autopsies a week, now they have the capacity to do 55.

"We're basically full for the facility we're in right now," says Hess.

He doesn't have an explanation for the spike in deaths, but he does know that men aren't faring well.

They accounted for 57 percent of overdose deaths, 73 percent of car accident deaths, 72 percent of suicides and 79 percent of homicides.

"If you look at accidental deaths, men seem to get themselves into trouble more often than women, for whatever reason be it overdoses or motor vehicle accidents," says Hess.

Homicides in Pima County were down in 2012 with 79 cases, compared to 91 in 2011 and 93 in 2010.

Migrant deaths also dropped.

It's important to note that Hess's office investigates non-natural deaths.

His findings are not an exhaustive report about all the deaths in Pima County. But with 3,200 cases referred to his facility in 2012, last year was the busiest they've been in the last decade.

"If the numbers continue in this way, ideally we'd need a new facility someday," says Hess.

To read the report in its entirety, go to http://www.pima.gov/cmo/OME/reports.html

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