Injuries Are Not Accidents: NewPublicHealth Q&A with Dan Stier

Oct 21, 2011, 6:24 AM, Posted by

Stier Daniel Stier, Network for Public Health Law

Injuries are the leading cause of death for people ages 1 through 44 in the United States, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of those injuries could be prevented – a key issue for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, which released an injury prevention guide for health officials and devoted a president’s challenge to the issue two years ago.

A survey by the Network for Public Health Law found that only 10 states have comprehensive injury prevention authority. NewPublicHealth caught up with Daniel Stier, JD, director of the Network for Public Health Law, about injury prevention at the ASTHO Annual Meeting.

NewPublicHealth: What is the focus of your talk at the ASTHO meeting?

Daniel Stier: It’s a broad view of injury prevention. Starting a number of years ago, I was contacted by Dr. Mel Kohn, who is the state health officer in the state of Oregon, and he was concerned about the lack of injury prevention authority in Oregon’s statutes and said he was advised by his lawyer to go rather slow on injury prevention activities because of this. So he and I and others have been working together to really study what’s going on at the state level in injury prevention and we found that only a handful of states are mandated to conduct comprehensive injury prevention activities including surveillance assessments and policy development.

NPH: What issues are particularly critical in injury prevention?

Daniel Stier: Two key issues especially come to mind. Traumatic brain injury, and in particular, sports youth concussions is a very high priority these days. Our Network for Public Health Law has paid a lot of attention to that, and on our website we have an inventory of state laws addressing sports youth concussions and those laws are expanding very, very rapidly throughout the states.

Another major injury prevention issue is the prescription drug overdose epidemic. In many states, prescription drugs have surpassed illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine in terms of the deaths that have been caused by overdose. We’ve been spending a lot of time studying prescription drug monitoring programs. Almost all states have those now and have to determine whether, in fact, they are effective in addressing this epidemic.

NPH: What have state health officials learned in the last couple of decades about injury prevention and the law?

Daniel Stier: I think states are generally familiar with the public health aspects of injury prevention and that they have made a lot of progress over the last decade or two in terms of bringing a public health approach to injury prevention. CDC, for example, has been assisting the states with its National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, and there has been an increased amount of activity on injury prevention.

Nonetheless, we have a long way to go. I’d say when you contrast it with the work that is done by public health in communicable disease, injury prevention is in its relative infancy and we have a long way to go to really have both public health officials and practitioners and the public at large recognize injury prevention as a public health activity. It’s a mantra within injury prevention circles that injuries are not accidents, they’re preventable. And so, we have to continue to work very hard within public health circles to get better at injury prevention and we have to educate the public about injury prevention as well.

NPH: Does improving legal protections that might reduce injuries necessarily require greater expense?

Daniel Stier: A comprehensive injury prevention program does cost money and if a state does not currently have one, it’s going to have to front some money to develop that program. But in so many public health areas an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and that’s certainly true in the injury prevention area. Whether it’s sports youth concussions or motorcycle helmets or seatbelts, those preventive measures have some cost associated with them but the benefits of those prevention activities so far outweigh the budgetary impacts of having to treat those injuries for what may be decades afterwards that it really should be an easy call even in these tough budgetary times for state legislatures.

>>Follow continued NewPublicHealth coverage of the ASTHO Annual Meeting here.

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