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FOR RELEASE: April 26, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Injury Prevention Promoted During May

The leading cause of death among young people in Oklahoma is not something they are born with or develop over time. It can happen in an instant, yet it can also be prevented. The number one killer of young people in Oklahoma is injury - including injuries that result from motor vehicle crashes, guns, falls, fires, drowning, and drugs.

From 1994 to 1998 in Oklahoma, injuries accounted for 50 percent of all deaths to children1 to14 years of age, and 77 percent of all deaths among adolescents 15 to 19 years of age. After the first year of life, more children died from injuries than all other causes of death combined.

To increase awareness that injuries can be prevented, the Oklahoma Legislature passed this session and Gov. Keating recently signed into law HB 2714, which designates May as Injury Prevention Month in Oklahoma.

“Many people think injuries are unavoidable, chance happenings,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “In reality, injuries, like diseases, occur in highly predictable patterns.”

Injury is the leading cause of death for persons 1 to 44 years of age. Among all age groups, it is the third leading cause of death, following heart disease and cancer. Injuries account for more than 2,000 deaths each year, and result in more than 55,000 hospitalizations and an estimated 791,907 emergency department visits. The costs of hospitalization, lost work and productivity, lives lost, and disabilities due to injuries total $2.6 billion annually. Oklahoma's death rates due to traffic injuries, drownings, fire/burns, and suicide are higher than national rates.

“While the circumstances leading to an injury, such as a motor vehicle crash, may not always be avoidable, the injuries sustained in that crash can often be prevented or lessened by wearing seat belts or using car seats,” Beitsch noted.

Because injuries can be prevented, the Oklahoma State Department of Health has designed and implemented several successful injury prevention programs. In 1990, the health department implemented a smoke alarm giveaway program in south Oklahoma City that resulted in an 81 percent decrease in the residential fire injury rate in the project area six years following the giveaway. As a result of the project, efforts were expanded to include other communities in the state and almost 50,000 smoke alarms have been distributed and installed in Oklahoma homes.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health has also distributed more than 100,000 bicycle helmets statewide to families with children 5 to12 years of age. In addition, families who are eligible for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program can obtain car seats through their local health departments. “Not only can families obtain products such as smoke alarms, bicycle helmets, and car seats to prevent injuries at their local health department, they are also taught how to use the items,” Beitsch said.

Another injury prevention tool developed by the state health department is the Oklahoma Elementary School Injury Prevention Education: The Subject-Integrated Safety Curriculum for Teachers. The curriculum is a comprehensive, grade-specific 25-lesson injury prevention curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade. The curriculum was approved by the Oklahoma Department of Education Textbook Committee and is on the official textbook list.

“Although much work has been done to decrease injuries in this state, enhanced public awareness through efforts such as Injury Prevention Month can educate Oklahomans that injuries can be prevented and we can reduce the toll of this significant public health problem,” Beitsch emphasized.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health has materials available to assist local health departments and community organizations and businesses in promoting Injury Prevention Month. To obtain these materials or for more information about injury prevention, call the Injury Prevention Service at 405/271-3430.

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