There’s a mystery embedded in the latest annual report by the Office of the Medical Examiner: More people died in Pima County in 2012 than in other recent years.

There were 9,742 deaths in Pima County last year, compared to 8,383 in 2011 and 8,163 in 2010.

Chief Medical Examiner Greg Hess doesn’t have an explanation for the spike in deaths, but what he does know with certainty is that last year was busier for his office than at any point in the last decade, with more than 3,200 cases referred to the Forensic Science Center for autopsies, investigations and examinations.

The office investigates any death in Pima County – and in many surrounding counties – that is sudden, violent, unexpected, or in which the cause of death is unknown.

Among the report’s other highlights:

 Men didn’t fare well. They accounted for 57 percent of the overdose deaths, 73 percent of motor vehicle-related fatalities, 72 percent of the suicides, 64 percent of accident fatalities and 79 percent of homicides. Of the migrants who died and were later identified, 85 percent were men. Men also comprised 67 percent of the natural deaths.

 Firearms were used in 65 percent of homicides and 48 percent of suicides.

 Homicides went down 13 percent in 2012, with 79 cases, compared to the 91 in 2011 and 93 in 2010. Victims were most frequently men between the ages of 20-29.

 Migrant deaths fell below average last year, with 157 deaths, compared to the record high in 2010 of 225 deaths. Skeletal or significantly decomposed remains accounted for 107, or nearly 70 percent, of those deaths. More than 730 decedents examined by the Office since 2001 remain unidentified, primarily as a result of postmortem changes and a lack of identifying information.

 Overdose deaths rose in 2012 to 314, from 277 the year previous and 273 in 2010. Prescription drugs continue to be a factor in the majority of the deaths, with oxycodone the No.1 source of overdoses and morphine the second highest.

 Natural deaths made up nearly 40 percent of the deaths investigated by the Forensic Science Center. Cardiovascular disease accounted for far and away the most deaths, at 64 percent, followed next by chronic alcohol abuse at 8 percent.

Pima County’s Forensic Science Center is the only accredited office in Arizona and one of 69 across the United States.

To read the report in its entirety, please visit:

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