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Heat-related deaths are increasing in California and the nation and not only because it’s getting hotter. Drug use and homelessness are also significant factors.  

Last year, heat was the underlying or contributing cause in nearly 1,700 deaths nationwide. That’s the highest rate of heat-related deaths in at least two decades, according to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unsheltered and older people are especially vulnerable to excess heat.

Illnesses range from heat exhaustion, which causes heavy sweating and a rapid pulse, to heat stroke, which can cause confusion, high fever, loss of consciousness and sometimes death.

In California, about a quarter of all heat-related deaths between 2018 and 2022 involved drug use, the CDC data show.

When substance use is added to the extreme heat mix, the combination can be fatal. Methamphetamines in particular can cause body temperatures to rise to dangerous levels. Officials expect the problem to worsen with climate change.

Heat waves are now starting earlier and lasting longer as evidenced this year in much of the nation.

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