Child injury deaths fell 30% in decade, but drug deaths rose

Death rates from unintentional injuries of children from birth to age 19 fell by nearly 30% in the United States from 2000 through 2009, largely because of a 41% drop in deaths in car crashes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. That amounts to more than 11,000 children saved during the decade, Dr. Ileana Arias, principal deputy director of the CDC, said in a news conference. "The rate is among the worst of all high-income countries," she said, and the real shame is that most of the deaths "are predictable and preventable."

Agency officials fear it may be difficult to lower the rate further, however, because of sharp increases in two areas: a 91% increase in poisoning deaths among teenagers during the period -- primarily from prescription drug abuse -- and a 54% increase in suffocation deaths among infants. Prescription drug poisonings, whether the drugs are stolen from parents' medicine cabinets or purchased on the street, appear to be increasingly replacing marijuana as a "gateway drug" that leads to the abuse of harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, added Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention.

 Nearly 9,000 infants, children and teenagers died of accidental injuries in 2009, about one every hour, according to the report. That represents about 1 in every 5 childhood deaths. And for every accidental death, there were 25 hospitalizations and 925 visits to the emergency room. Every 4 seconds, a child is treated for injury in an ER. In 2005, the last year for which figures are available, those injuries cost nearly $11.5 billion in medical expenses.

The nationwide childhood death rate averaged 11 deaths per 100,000 children in 2009, but the rate varied widely. The rates ranged from fewer than 5 deaths per 100,000 in Massachusetts and New Jersey to more than 23 deaths per 100,000 in South Dakota and Mississippi. California had a rate of 7.5 deaths per 100,000, well below the national average. Gilchrist attributed the low rates in states like Massachusetts to a widespread recognition of the problem and to the availability of programs to combat the injuries.

At least some of the increase in suffocation deaths represents a better investigation of such deaths, which attributes fewer to sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. But that doesn't explain all of the increase, Gilchrist said. Some of it can be laid at the feet of parents who do not place infants on their back, use unsafe cribs or place dangerous toys in the cribs.

More information about preventing childhood injuries and deaths can be obtained here. "Children are safer than ever before," Arias said. "But more can be done and more must be done."

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