The number of Americans dying from gun violence or drug overdoses now surpasses the number of motor vehicle fatalities in the United States. The public health crises of gun violence and drug addiction are also felt in Central New York.
The rate of motor vehicle fatalities decreased 59 percent from 1969 to 2012. If that trend continues, deaths from gun violence will surpass those from motor vehicles nationally within a few years. Already 21 states have higher death rates due to firearms than motor vehicle deaths, says Margaret Formica, PhD, from Upstate’s department of public health and preventive medicine.
Public health experts call gun violence an epidemic. “A growing body of research indicates gun violence spreads like an infectious disease. It’s contagious,” Formica says. “We know that gun violence clusters in time, in geographic areas, and that gun violence spreads among social networks just like the flu.”
Syracuse has an annual rate of six shooting victims per 100,000 people, which is 1 ½ times higher than the national rate, Formica says.
She says national data shows more than 32,000 deaths due to firearms, and more than 67,000 injuries from firearms each year, by far the highest numbers among industrialized nations. What may appear to be good news — a plateau in the rate of gun deaths since the year 2000 – actually reveals a shortfall, Formica says. “We’re not doing a very good job of preventing gun deaths.”
From 2005 to 2015, the national number of heroin overdose deaths jumped 500 percent. New York state saw fewer than 100 heroin overdose deaths in 2005; in 2015, more than 1,000 were reported, says Upstate pharmacist and toxicologist William Eggleston. Now the nation and Central New York are dealing with an epidemic of drug addiction and overdose deaths. It started with prescription opioids, he says.
Opioid drugs such as morphine and oxycodone are used to treat moderate to severe pain, and they work well for a day or two. The drugs are not intended for use long term, but some patients, in chronic pain, take the drugs longer than is safe and become addicted.
As their prescriptions run out, patients seek alternatives. Heroin is inexpensive and available on the street. Eggleston says its addiction rates have doubled over the last decade in the United States. He says the high from heroin is different than from other opioids. Nothing else feels the same, which makes heroin highly addictive.
“Addiction doesn’t discriminate,” he says. “It doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status, your gender, where you live, what you do for work,” he says. “We all know someone, or are related to someone or love someone who is suffering from addiction.” ###
Gun violence prevention
- Realize that having guns in the home is a strong risk factor for homicide and suicide.
- Explore “smart gun” technology, so that no one but the owner is able to fire the gun.
- Upstate offers help through the Violence Education Prevention Outreach Program.
Drug addiction prevention
- If you receive an opioid prescription for pain, make sure it’s for the lowest effective dose.
- Realize opioids do a good short-term job of relieving pain for a few days. They are not meant for long-term use.
- New York state offers assistance through the Opioid Overdose Prevention Program.
This article appears in the fall 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Click here for a podcast interview where Formica describes how gun violence can spread like an infectious disease. Click here for a podcast interview with Eggleston where he analyzes the opioid crisis.