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Friday, September 21, 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A published study by researchers from the West Virginia University School of Public Health and Injury Control Research Center found that suicide has now passed motor vehicle traffic crashes as the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States. Additionally, the disease rate has been declining while the injury rate has been rising.

The research team, led by WVU and including scientists from nine other institutions, examined changes in injury mortality and its five leading causes from 2000 through 2009. The mortality data for 2009 were released for public use by the National Center for Health Statistics in January 2012.

Ian Rockett, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor in the WVU School of Public Health Department of Epidemiology and lead author of the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, said many significant findings emerged from the study.

“Suicide is now the leading cause of unintentional and violence-related injury mortality as a whole,” Dr. Rockett said. “Suicide only surpassed motor vehicle traffic crashes in the final year available for the study, 2009. The suicide mortality rate was 15 percent higher in 2009 than 2000.”

In addition, the unintentional poisoning mortality rate increased by 128 percent between 2000 and 2009.

“Unintentional poisoning has risen to third among the leading causes of injury mortality, a change that appears mainly driven by the enormous increase in the rate of fatal overdoses from prescription painkillers,” Rockett said.

While motor vehicle traffic crashes still rank second as a cause of injury death, the rate decreased by 25 percent between 2000 and 2009 and is a universal success story, according to Rockett.

“Much time, attention and resources have been devoted to traffic safety,” he said. “Similar efforts will be needed for success in other spheres of injury prevention.”

The fall mortality rate rose by 71 percent between 2000 and 2009. Falls now rank fourth as a cause of injury deaths and homicide fifth.

The research team also reported important findings related to gender, race/ethnicity and age. The male injury mortality rate is more than twice as high as the female injury mortality rate. However, the female rate increase was more than double that for males. The injury mortality rate for whites was 20 percent higher in 2009 than in 2000. By contrast, this rate was 11 percent lower for both African-Americans and Hispanics.

“Whites now have a higher rate than these two largest minority groups,” Rockett said. “Traditionally at excess risk for injury mortality, the 15-24 year age group did not stand out from the 25-74 age group. But, the 0-14 age group showed a 78 percent lower risk for injury death than the 15-24 age group, and the 75-years-and-older age group, an almost three-fold higher risk.”

The article reporting this research, “Leading Causes of Unintentional and Intentional Injury Mortality: United States, 2000-2009,” was published in the Sept. 20 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Co-authors on the study include Michael Regier, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Coben, M.D.