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Avoidable injuries are killing too many young Americans

There's plenty that could be done to avoid accidental deaths, CDC researchers say. (Noah Berger/Bloomberg News)

Not so cheerful news before your holiday weekend: Some sobering new government numbers show just how many young people die from injuries that could have been avoided.

In all, preventable injuries kill about 180,000 Americans each year, according to researcher from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's injury prevention unit. That includes such things as car crashes, drug overdoses, falls, assaults, suicide and drowning.

Injuries in 2010 accounted for about 80 percent of deaths in people under 30 years old, a rate that CDC researchers called "alarming." Of those deaths, 60 percent were from unintentional injuries, and the remaining injury deaths were split almost evenly between suicide and homicide. Chronic diseases accounted for about about 20 percent of deaths for people under 30.

(The Lancet)

Among the entire population, the rate of deaths stemming from unintentional injuries was slightly higher, at 67 percent. Motor-vehicle crashes in 2010 topped the list (33,687 deaths), followed by poisoning (33,041), falls (26,009), suffocation (6,165), drowning (3,782), and fires (2,845). Meanwhile, about 38,000 people died from a drug overdose.

There's another story to be told about people who live after suffering avoidable injuries that brought them into the hospital. More than 31.2 million unintentional and violence-related injuries happened in 2010, which the CDC says costs $513 billion in medical care and in lost productivity across the victims' life spans. And that says nothing of the legal costs, costs related to other health problems and injuries not treated.

The researchers, who write about their findings in The Lancet, seem clearly frustrated with the attitude that "accidents happen" as a reason to dismiss interventions that could potentially lower the rate of injuries. They write:

Representatives in public health have struggled to change this perception in some key stakeholders such as policymakers and even health professionals. When the need for injury prevention is recognised by individuals in health systems, training, time, and skill are often insufficient to enable a suitable response.

Researchers say there's plenty that could be done to save lives, including those identified by the Community Preventive Services Task Force. But there are factors that stand in the way of progress — social, economic, clinical, limited resources and so on. Some interventions seem simple enough to convey, such as encouraging more people to buckle their seatbelts. Others, such as reducing violence in our poorer neighborhoods, present a much more complex challenge.


Jason Millman covers all things health policy, with a focus on Obamacare implementation. He previously covered health policy for Politico.



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