Editorial: Report offers solid road map for reducing range of injuries
May 27, 2012
Huntington Herald Dispatch (West Virginia)
A new report out last week regarding injury prevention cited statistics that should come as no surprise to most West Virginians. Relative to the state's population, West Virginia has more than its share of deaths from drug overdoses and highway fatalities.
The bigger question examined by the report is what West Virginia is doing to combat that unfortunate record -- and what more can it do. Based on the report's findings, it's clear more steps can be taken. The same holds true for Kentucky and Ohio.
The report, called "The Facts Hurt: A State-by-State Injury Prevention Policy Report," was issued by two nonprofit groups, Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
It found that West Virginia had a rate of deaths caused by accidents and violence of 82 per 100,000 people, the seventh highest in the nation and far higher than the national average of 58. Kentucky was close behind, ranking 10th, while Ohio was below the national average and ranked 38th.
Pushing West Virginia and Kentucky toward the top were the number of poisoning deaths in each state. Most of those have to do with overdoses of prescription drugs, and drug abuse is widespread in both states. West Virginia had the second highest poisoning death rate based on 2007-2009 data, while Kentucky was seventh.
Regarding motor vehicle crashes, West Virginia had the nation's eighth-highest death rate at 19.8, compared with the national average of 12.4. Kentucky ranked 10th.
West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio all ranked among the bottom half of the states in an injury prevention indicator index, based on whether they have certain safety laws in place that the report's authors believed to be important.
Policymakers in all three states have devoted considerable time in recent years trying to address the prescription drug problem, establishing tougher rules on prescribing pain pills, speeding up reporting requirements for electronic monitoring databases of prescriptions and tightening limits on a key ingredient for making methamphetamine.
One strategy that hasn't received wholesale support, however, is devoting a significant amount of effort and money to provide treatment for those who are addicted. In West Virginia, some money has been allocated for drug and alcohol treatment, both in prisons and elsewhere, but the sums have been small compared with the magnitude of the problem.
All three states, to varying degrees, have taken action aimed at reducing highway deaths. For example, all three have enacted bans on using cellphones for text messaging while driving.
But all three also register shortcomings, based on the injury prevention report. For example, West Virginia and Ohio do not make failure to use a seat belt a primary offense, meaning that a motorist can be pulled over and cited for that violation alone. While West Virginia scores points for requiring use of helmets for motorcyclists and young bicyclists, Ohio and Kentucky do not.
The Facts Hurt report provides a solid framework for helping keep people safer. Policymakers in all three states would do well to consider the findings to determine what further they can to do to keep residents safer.
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