April 16, 2012 -- The death rate from unintentional injury among children and teens has dropped by about a third in a decade. But troubling increases occurred in prescription drug deaths among older teens and suffocation deaths among infants, the CDC says.
More than 9,000 children and teens in the U.S. -- about one child every hour -- died in 2009 from injuries with causes such as motor vehicle crashes, suffocation, drowning, poisoning, fires, and falls, according to a CDC rreport released today.
Among the major findings:
- The child injury death rate dropped by nearly 30% between 2000 and 2009, resulting in more than 11,000 lives saved.
- A 41% decline in deaths from motor vehicle crashes over the last decade was largely attributed to better use of seatbelts and child safety seats, and the strengthening of graduated driver licensing laws aimed at teens.
- Poisoning deaths among older teens increased by 91% during the same period and suffocation rates in infants younger than 1 rose by 54%.
"We have made progress, and because of this our children are safer than ever before, but injury continues to be a leading cause of death among children," CDC Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD, said in a news conference. "Injury continues to be a leading cause of death among children, and we know more can be done to keep our children safe."
Big Increase in Painkiller Drug Deaths
Abuse of prescription painkillers was largely responsible for the big jump in poisoning deaths among older teens, according to Arias and CDC medical epidemiologist Julie Gilchrist, MD.
Almost twice as many teens between the ages of 15 and 19 died from poisoning in 2009 compared to 2000, and the vast majority of these deaths were due to abuse of opioid painkillers like Demerol, Percocet, and Vicodin, they said.
The abuse of these medications has risen dramatically among adults over the past decade, and Arias said the same trend is being seen among older teens.
"It is tragic to see this epidemic beginning in younger people," she said, adding that painkillers have become gateway drugs to other widely abused substances like heroin.
The cause of the rise in infant suffocation deaths over the last decade is not so easy to pinpoint.
Gilchrist said the increase may reflect improvements in infant death investigations, which have resulted in fewer suffocation deaths being misclassified as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Almost 1,000 infants a year suffocate in the U.S. Gilchrist said these deaths are largely preventable by following recommended safe-sleep practices.
That means placing babies to sleep in safe cribs on their backs with no loose bedding or soft toys and avoiding bed sharing.
There were big differences in unintended injury deaths from state to state.
The death rate in Mississippi, which had the most child injury deaths, was more than six times that of Massachusetts, which had the fewest deaths.
The 11 states with death rates significantly lower than the national average in 2009 included: Ohio, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia, Illinois, Maryland, California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.
Twenty-one states had death rates significantly higher than the U.S. average: Mississippi, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, South Carolina, New Mexico, Arkansas, Alabama, North Dakota, Kentucky, Missouri, Kansas, Nevada, Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, and Texas.
States with the lowest death rates tended to have more laws on the books addressing child safety and more programs aimed at keeping children and teens safe.
"The [state] variation is important because it demonstrates what is possible to accomplish," Arias says. "In 2009 more than 5,700 children's lives would have been saved if the lowest state death rate had been achieved nationally."
The report was published today in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.