By Rose Hoban
North Carolina has made progress in reducing the number of injuries sustained by people in the state, but still, North Carolina ranks 19th in the rate of injury-related deaths in the country, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health.
New Mexico leads the nation with 97.8 deaths per 100,000 people dying from injuries annually. North Carolina’s rate is 66 per 100,000.
New York and New Jersey have the lowest rates of injury-related deaths, with 37.1 and 36.1 deaths per 100,000 respectively.
“We’re certainly never going to live in an injury-free society,” said Jeff Levi, Executive Director of the Trust for America’s Health during a conference call with reporters, “but we certainly have a long way to go.”
Levi said state policies intended to reduce deaths from injury have been effective in lowering the number of people who die annually from injuries. He cited laws regulating child car seats, programs to educate teens about intimate partner violence, policies to reduce drunk driving, and laws requiring home smoke detectors as instrumental in reducing deaths overall.
In 2010, more than 5,000 people in North Carolina died from injuries (pdf), and emergency departments treated almost 600,000 people looking for treatment of their injuries in the same year (pdf), at a cost of billions of dollars. In that year, the greatest numbers of death from injury came from motor vehicle accidents, with accidental overdoses of mostly prescription drugs the second leading cause of death from injury.
Rates of death from car accidents have dropped over the past decade. According to the TFAH report, seat belts saved about 69,000 lives between 2006-2010, and child car seats for children have helped reduce the number of children and teens killed in motor vehicle crashes dropped by 41 percent from 2000 to 2009.
Report advisor Amber Williams, from the Safe States Alliance, said one of the newest challenges is the striking rise in the number of people who die from prescription drug overdose.
“‘Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month,” Williams said. “Unintentional poisoning including from the misuse of prescription drugs caused more than 700,000 emergency department visits in 2009.”
Drug overdoses were the leading cause of injury death in North Carolina for people aged 25 – 45 in 2010.
According to the report, one policy that would help reduce motor vehicle deaths in North Carolina would be adoption of ignition interlocks for all convicted drunk drivers, including first offenders.
“Many years ago, many more people were dying on the roads because of drunk driving,” said Andrea Geilen from the Society for the Advancement of Violence and Injury Prevention. “But through a combination of many efforts including policy, education, awareness… the number of people dying on the roads from drunk driving has gone down dramatically There are still things we know will work to push that number down further.”
Geilen cited data from states adopting ignition interlocks for first time offenders that show drops in deaths due to drunk driving. In New Mexico, the injury rate dropped by 41 percent and the death rate dropped by 36 percent over about 5 years.
“A lot of people are just not aware of injury as a problem and how to prevent it. So, we’re hoping this report will shed new light on the problem and multiple solutions and lead to more public private partnerships and community engagement in the issue,” she said.