CDC National Center for Injury Prevention: Q&A with Linda Degutis

May 22, 2012, 2:21 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

file Linda Degutis, Director of the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year. Throughout the year, the Injury Center will be holding events and activities to mark the anniversary and raise awareness of injury and violence prevention community opportunities. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Linda Degutis, DrPH, the center’s director, about milestones in injury prevention of the last twenty years, and what’s ahead.

NewPublicHealth will be posting interviews with several injury prevention experts this week.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the National Center for Injury Prevention, and some of the successes in injury prevention to date.

Linda Degutis: We’re one of the younger centers at CDC, and I think a lot of the successes that we’ve seen are not just successes of the Center itself but of the field of injury and violence prevention as a whole, and I think that’s really important for us to stress. For example, the reduction in motor vehicle crash deaths have been so very significant where we’re now talking about something more like closer to 30,000 motor vehicle crash deaths per year—when at the time the Center started it was probably closer to 50,000. That’s a great success.

>>For more on preventing motor vehicle crashes, read an interview with Andrea Gielen, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Prevention.

NPH: What types of preventable injury issues have emerged or increased in prevalence since the Center launched?

Linda Degutis: We’re seeing certainly are more unintentional poisonings that are fatal, particularly driven by prescription opioids. Since 1990 we’ve seen about a 290 percent increase in the unintentional poisoning rates in males and 108 percent increase in females. In fact, the unintentional poisoning deaths are exceeding motor vehicle deaths as a leading cause of injury death.

NPH: How effective do you think public education has been in helping to prevent at least some injuries?

Linda Degutis: We know that education can’t be the only strategy. There has to be more to it. So, it’s one thing to teach somebody how to put a car seat in, but another component of that is having a car seat that actually is well designed and fits well into the vehicle. So, the proper installation is one key, but the seat itself is the other key. The easier we can make it for somebody, the better we are at preventing injuries. Think about airbags and some of the crash protection that’s built into motor vehicles nowadays. It’s a big change from 15 or 20 years ago, and people don’t necessarily have to think about it. So you put your seatbelt on and if you get into a crash the airbag deploys and can help keep you from having facial injuries and from your head hitting the staring wheel or hitting the dashboard. Technology and design are and will continue to be very important in preventing injuries, especially in motor vehicles. Like having alcohol sensors built into a motor vehicle so that the car won’t start if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration that is going to impair them.

NPH: You’ve been in practice as well as in the research world. How do both of those experiences contribute to your work at the Injury Center?

Linda Degutis: Having that combination of experiences is probably fairly unique and helps me see how they interrelate and how we can use the data to inform policy and communicate about the data that we have so that people understand how they can make changes. We’ve been focusing on how to tell the story about injury prevention and to put out the data so that people understand how important it is to make a difference. Rather than showing a bunch of numbers, how do we humanize those numbers and help people understand the impact that injury has on people’s lives.

NPH: What’s new that you’re looking ahead to working on?

Linda Degutis: I think we’re seeing now some of the evidence of the linkages between violence and chronic health conditions, and we’re looking at ways to prevent exposure to violence in early childhood and really look at how to develop nurturing relationships for children so that they don’t have these long-term health impacts that are really very significant. It’s linked to diabetes, hypertension, post-traumatic stress—and it really will impact them for their whole lives. How do we intervene early on to prevent those impacts?

>>Read an interview on violence prevention with Billie Weiss, Associate Director of the UCLA Injury Prevention Research Center.

I think that we’re optimistic that we can continue to make progress, but I think this understanding of the linkage between these exposures and chronic disease and long-term health effects is something that we really need to keep in mind.

NPH: Final thoughts?

Linda Degutis: A key message is that most injuries can be prevented. They’re not accidents and there are published, vetted strategies for preventing them.

>>Follow our series on injury prevention.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.