Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fewest homicides, traffic deaths in ten years; suicides increase

2009 Medical Examiner’s annual report shows King County death statistics and trends
In 2009, King County saw the lowest number of deaths due to homicide and traffic accidents in the past ten years. By contrast, the number of suicides has increased to the highest number since 2000, according to the King County Medical Examiner’s (KCME) report released today.

The report presents a detailed analysis of deaths that fall under KCME’s jurisdiction, including suspicious, sudden, unexpected or violent deaths in King County for the previous year, as well as trends in homicides, traffic fatalities and drug overdose deaths. For a copy of the full King County Medical Examiner’s 2009 annual report, please call 206-731-3232.

“Medical Examiner death reviews are a critical component of public health prevention efforts,” said Dr. David Fleming, Director and Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Because we know the circumstances, risk factors and trends of death in King County, we can target efforts and work to prevent early deaths. Traffic fatalities are a clear example of this. We know that alcohol and drug impairment, speed and failure to wear seatbelts contribute to traffic fatalities, and we work with partners throughout King County to help alleviate those causes.”

In 2009, there were an estimated 12,967 deaths in King County, and KCME performed autopsies approximately ten percent (1,226) of the time. KCME assumed jurisdiction in 2,190 deaths, which included 989 natural deaths, 632 accidental deaths, 253 suicides, 141 traffic deaths, 63 homicides and 59 undetermined causes.

“Our hearts go out to the friends and families who have suffered losses,” said Dr. Richard Harruff, Chief Medical Examiner. “Every death we review receives our fullest respect and attention. We work to investigate and resolve the manner and cause of death as quickly as possible, and in the most scientific and professional manner so grieving loved ones can find some solace.”

Budget cuts impact KCME
Budget cuts to public health services have impacted the King County Medical Examiner’s office. Since 2009, KCME has eliminated 4.5 full-time death investigators, along with the reduction of a part-time anthropologist. The reduced number of staff has led to fewer investigators on the night shift and longer response times.

Findings from the 2009 report
Compared with 2008, King County had fewer homicides, traffic fatalities, and accidental deaths. Deaths from natural causes and suicides both increased. Firearms were the most frequent instrument of death in homicides and suicides. Of the 146 firearm deaths in 2009, 41 were homicides and 100 were suicides. One firearm death was classified as an accident in 2009.

Targeted prevention efforts at Public Health

Accidental deaths (other)
The most common cause of accidental death was falls, most of which occurred in the age group 70 years and over.

Public Health's response: Public Health's Emergency Medical Services Division (EMS) and local fire departments work to prevent falls in the home and enroll older adults who needed 9-1-1 services in the past for fall-related injuries into a fall prevention program. Falls can result in fractures, and subsequent health complications, and even death, while convalescing.
More information on the fall prevention program.

Public Health's response: To prevent suicide deaths, Public Health recommends parents, peers, children of elderly parents, and health care providers learn the warning signs of suicide and where to find help (http://www.crisisclinic.org/ or 1-866-427-4747).

Public Health's Violence & Injury Prevention Unit is a partner in LOK-IT-UP, a campaign which recommends storing all firearms locked and unloaded to help reduce suicide risk. The unit also provides training resources for health care providers to work with patients at-risk for suicide to remove potential methods of death (i.e., firearms) from their surroundings. For more information, call 206-263-8160.

Traffic fatalities
Public Health's response: The Violence & Injury Prevention Unit leads the King County Traffic Safety Coalition, a multi-agency group that works to alleviate the leading causes of traffic fatalities, including alcohol and drug impairment, speed, and failure to wear seat belts.

Source: Seattle King County Public Health
Contact: Katie Ross, 206-263-8781

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