How injury prevention research saves lives

Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN

This blog post is part of a weekly series focusing on different aspects of public health leading up to Public Health Thank You Day on Monday November 23, 2015. Join the conversation on social media with the hashtag #PHTYD and visit http://www.publichealththankyouday.org(link is external) for more information.

In the United States, injuries kill more people between the ages of 1 and 44 than any other disease. To put this in perspective, each day 480 people die from injuries, one person every 3 minutes.  This is the equivalent of a Boeing 777 crashing each day. Of course not everyone who is injured dies. Millions of people are hospitalized or treated in emergency departments. All of this comes at a cost, which was $617 billion in 2013.

Injury prevention research is essential if we are to be efficient and cost-effective in preventing injuries from occurring, and in treating and rehabilitating people who survive their injuries. Injury research is like research into other diseases in many ways. Much as cancer researchers look for risk factors for cancer, injury prevention researchers look for risk factors for injury, and identify effective ways to control or eliminate those risk factors, often using community level interventions that are eventually adopted as community programs.  Injury prevention research focuses on moving from science to action, creating effective ways to prevent injuries and violence.

We have some clear examples of the effectiveness of injury prevention research. Consider motor vehicle safety. It isn’t all that long ago that cars were not equipped with air bags.  Injury researchers found that while seatbelts were effective in preventing many injuries and deaths, people still suffered injuries to their heads and faces from hitting the steering wheel or dashboard. Frontal air bags were designed to prevent these injuries. The use and proper placement of child safety seats has saved the lives of many children over the years.

Another example is how much we now know about preventing falls in older adults. Injury researchers identified the impact of falls on older adults in terms of mortality, as well as disability and health care costs. Understanding that preventing falls would be beneficial in this group of people, researchers set out to identify how to prevent falls, and how to bring these interventions to older adults. Several activity and exercise programs that lead to improved balance and stability were tested and are being implemented across the country in cooperation with community agencies and other organizations.

The current epidemic of prescription opioid (pain pill) overdose will not be stopped unless we can learn what works to prevent addiction, unintentional overdose, and other negative effects of these medications. Injury researchers are actively working to identify how to prevent the harmful effects of improper prescribing and use of these drugs, while ensuring that people who truly need prescription opioids to treat their pain receive the medications they need.

Injury prevention researchers work on developing early interventions to avert the consequences of risk. This is especially true in the area of violence prevention, where researchers are exploring ways to prevent children from being exposed to violent events, to prevent teen dating violence that can lead to a pattern of violence in relationships, to prevent violence in youth who need support in developing strategies for forming healthy relationships and in resolving conflicts peacefully, to identify risk for suicide and intervene.

Injury prevention research continues to contribute to keeping people safe, and preventing death and disability from injury. With continued support, injury prevention research can be success story of the decade.

Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, is co-chair of the Policy and Advocacy Committee for the Society for the Advancement of Violence and Injury Research (SAVIR).

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Luck shouldn't play a role in why I'm alive.
Laurie MacCaskill, a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor