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Rising firearm injuries place strain on U.S. emergency services, study reveals

A recent study led by Dr. Adam Rowh has uncovered a significant rise in firearm injuries across the United States, placing unprecedented strain on emergency medical services (EMS). Covering the period from January 2019 to September 2023, the research analysed data from 858 counties in 27 states, providing a comprehensive overview of this growing public health issue. The findings were published in the US’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The study’s conclusions are alarming. Young males, especially non-Hispanic Black or African American, aged 15-24 years are the demographics most impacted by firearm injuries. The annual rates of EMS encounters for firearm injuries surged from 222.7 per 100,000 in 2019 to a peak of 294.9 per 100,000 in 2020. These elevated rates have persisted through 2023, suggesting that the problem is not receding.

The research indicates that those urban areas and counties facing severe housing problems, high income inequality, and high unemployment rates have seen the most significant increases in firearm injuries. These findings highlight the complex interplay between socioeconomic factors and public health.

Dr. Rowh’s study also noted the sharp increase in the monthly rate of firearm injury EMS encounters after the declaration of COVID-19 as a national emergency in the US in March 2020. The total number of EMS encounters – across all issues – decreased briefly in April and May 2020, possibly inflating the rate of firearm injury encounters during this period. However, EMS use patterns quickly returned to pre-pandemic levels by June 2020.

The study emphasizes the importance of using EMS data to develop targeted interventions. “States and communities can use the timely and location-specific data in EMS records to develop and implement comprehensive firearm injury prevention strategies to address the economic, social, and physical conditions that contribute to the risk for violence,” the report states.

The findings underscore the urgent need for comprehensive firearm injury prevention strategies. Public health officials and policymakers in the US (and elsewhere) are called upon to address the economic, social, and physical conditions that contribute to the risk of violence. This includes improving physical environments, promoting secure firearm storage, and strengthening social and economic support systems.

The study highlights the potential of EMS data in providing detailed information on the location of firearm injury incidents, information that is often unavailable from hospital-based data. By linking EMS data with other data sources, researchers can gain a more detailed understanding of firearm injuries and their context. This could help identify place-based risk factors and protective measures, improve care for firearm injuries, and monitor the effectiveness of prevention strategies over time.

“Future research linking injury location information from EMS data and treatment facility or patient residence information from other data sources could help further contextualize place-based risk and protective factors of firearm injury, assess the continuum of care for firearm injuries, and monitor patient outcomes,” the report suggests.

As the US grapples with the rise in firearm injuries, this study serves as a crucial call to action. The path forward requires collaboration across all levels of government, community organisations, and the public to implement effective, evidence-based solutions. addressing the underlying socioeconomic factors contributing to violence is essential to creating safer communities and reducing the devastating impact of firearm violence.