NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Firearms are now the single-largest cause of traumatic death and years of potential life lost in the United States, surpassing motor-vehicle crashes, according to a new study.
The analysis of a decade of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data revealed that for both 2017 and 2018, years of potential life lost (YPLL) was higher for deaths caused by firearms than for motor-vehicle crashes, researchers report in Trauma Surgery and Acute Care Open.
“The real take-home message of this study is that firearm-related deaths in the United States continue to rise at an alarming pace and that firearms are now the leading cause of years of potential life lost due to trauma,” said Dr. Joshua Klein of Westchester Medical Center and the New York Medical College, in Valhalla, New York.
The study was sparked by a discussion about CDC data showing that once again there had been an increase in firearm deaths in the U.S., Dr. Klein told Reuters Health by email.
“While it was certainly concerning that more people were dying in the United States from firearms than ever before, it only told one piece of the story,” Dr. Klein said. “Years of potential life lost, we believe, is a better indicator in revealing the magnitude of the firearm epidemic in the United States. Calculating YPLL secondary to firearms better quantifies the economic and social losses that occur with these premature deaths.”
To take a closer look at trends in firearm deaths, Dr. Klein and his colleagues turned to the CDC’s National Vital Statistics Reports for the years 2009-2018. The researchers calculated YPLL “by the CDC standard of subtracting the age at death from the standard year of 80, and then summing the individual years of potential life lost . . . across each cause of death,” they explain.
During the course of the study the YPLL for motor-vehicle crash (MVC) mortality and firearm-related deaths were 12.9 million and 12.6 million, respectively. However, firearm-related deaths surpassed MVC mortality as the leading cause of traumatic death in 2017, when there were 1.44 million YPLL due to firearms as compared with 1.37 million related to MVC.
The majority of the 38,929 firearm-related deaths, 85%, were in men, and white men had the most YPLL due to suicide, with 4.95 million YPLL during the decade studied by the researchers. When it comes to homicide, Black men had the highest YPLL, at 3.2 million. Older white men had the largest number of suicides by firearms.
Dr. Klein and his colleagues found that firearm-related deaths were highest in the South, followed by the West, the Midwest and the Northeast.
“The reason for the increase in YPLL is multifactorial,” Dr. Klein said. “The abundance and availability of both registered and non-registered firearms, lack of education within communities regarding firearms, and mental-health issues all contribute to the increase in deaths and YPLL.”
The new study highlights the issue of firearm deaths, said Dr. Paul Nestadt, an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and co-director of the McGlasson Anxiety Disorders Clinic at Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland.
“The overall message is useful – that we need to pay attention to firearm deaths,” Dr. Nestadt said. “For a long time in this country we’ve recognized motor-vehicle accidents as a cause of traumatic death. If you think back to the 80s when Ralph Nader said this was a public-health issue that should be addressed with public-health solutions, what we saw happen is motor-vehicle deaths went down dramatically.”
“The same thing happened with smoking, when it started to be viewed as a public-health issue rather than individual issue,” Dr. Nestadt told Reuters Health by phone. “We need to take those examples and apply them to firearm deaths. Just like motor-vehicle accidents and smoking we should address this from the policy and public-health perspective with licensing, background checks and red-flag laws. If we do that we’re likely to have as much success with guns as we’ve had with motor-vehicle accidents.”
Dr. Nestadt did take issue with the geographical associations because they were based on raw numbers and not on rates. So high numbers in populous states, such as in the South, might not actually indicate a higher rate in those regions.
SOURCE: https://bit.ly/3JMCP6H Trauma Surgery & Acute Care Open, online February 22, 2022.