21 Aug 1 Out of 40 Black Boys Will Die of a Gunshot
MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Ashwini Sehgal, MD
Professor, Department of Medicine, School of Medicine
Professor, Department of Bioethics, School of Medicine
Professor, Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, School of Medicine
Director and Duncan Neuhauser Professor of Community Health Improvement, Center for Reducing Health Disparities,
Case Western School of Medicine
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?
Response: News media and politicians frequently discuss the high toll of deaths from firearms and drug overdoses. They usually mention the numbers of deaths, citing figures like 40,000 firearm deaths last year, or death rates such as 20 overdose deaths per 100,000 population. But for most people, it’s hard to grasp the real meaning of both the large absolute numbers and the small annual rates. So in a new study published in the American Journal of Medicine, I used official death certificate data to calculate the chance that an American child will die from a gunshot or a drug overdose over the course of a lifetime.
MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?
Response: The lifetime risk of death from firearms is about 1%, meaning that approximately 1 out of every 100 children will die from firearms if current death rates continue. The lifetime risk of death from drug overdoses is 1.5%, meaning that 1 out of every 70 children will eventually die from overdoses. These risks vary depending on who you are and where you live. The lifetime risk of firearm death is highest among black boys: 1 out of every 40 will die from a gunshot. The lifetime risk of overdose death is highest in West Virginia where 1 out of every 30 children will die from overdoses.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: First, presenting information on lifetime risks may be a practical way to educate the public and policy makers about the impact of firearm and overdose deaths. While absolute numbers of deaths and annual death rates describe mortality over a short period of time, lifetime risk tells us more about long-term consequences.
Second, policymakers can deploy a variety of measures to reduce our exposure to and the consequences of firearms and potentially lethal drugs. Examples include background checks and waiting periods for gun purchases and improving access to substance use treatment and needle exchange programs.
Third, health providers can advocate for measures likely to reduce deaths. They can ask patients about the presence of firearms in the home, review safe storage practices, and screen for depression or a previous history of violence. They can also limit or avoid prescribing drugs with overdose potential and carefully monitor patients on such drugs.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Researchers should examine the relative importance of individual-, community-, and policy-level factors that may explain the extensive variation in lifetime risk across demographic groups and states. They can also develop and test better methods for conveying information about the impact of firearms and overdoses to the public and policy makers.
MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Response: Lifetime risk calculations assume that future death rates will match current ones. But it does not have to be that way. The big differences in firearm and overdose deaths by race, gender, state, and country, and the sizeable changes over time indicate that high levels of firearm and overdose deaths are not inevitable. Let’s take sensible steps now to help our children avoid the preventable tragedies of firearm and overdose deaths.
Ashwini R. Sehgal. Lifetime Risk of Death From Firearm Injuries, Drug Overdoses, and Motor Vehicle Accidents in the United States. The American Journal of Medicine, 2020; DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2020.03.047
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