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Sauaia: Gunshot wounds are more lethal than they were a decade ago

Colorado School of Public Health

6/22/2016
Dr. Angela Sauaia

​According to a new study co-authored by Dr. Angela Sauaia, professor of public health, medicine and surgery at CU Anschutz Medical Campus, gunshot victims are more likely to die than they were a decade ago.

Sauaia and her colleagues examined gun-related violence between 2000 and 2013 at Denver Health Medical Center, the city's largest trauma center.

Not only are gunshot wounds larger than they used to be, but they're more numerous, too. Ten years ago, a patient coming in with 6 or 7 gunshot wounds would be a rather surprising occurrence; today, it's common, Sauaia said.

"Our study provides an objective measure of something trauma surgeons across the country already know - firearms used in our communities are becoming more harmful and more lethal," she stated.

According to the study's data published in JAMA, between 2000 and 2013 more than 1,680 people were treated for gun-related wounds at Denver Health, with the number of hospitalizations steady year-to-year. However, death rates steadily climbed at an average rate of 6 percent every two-year period. The rising death rates can be attributed to an increase in the size and number of wounds, Sauaia explained.

It's important to compare these data with others, though, Sauaia adds. "We wanted to know if, for other injuries, how well we were able to treat them. And if you look at the graph of the study we just published in JAMA, it's a very clear trend. All other injuries, motor vehicle accidents, pedestrian accidents, bicycle injuries...is going down. So we are, indeed, able to save many more lives. What we can't do is outpace the advancements in the dangerous effects of guns.

"You see, we do everything we can to make cars safer. Firearms work in the exact opposite direction. Technology makes them more likely to injure, not less likely," she finished.

But there are other obstacles to understanding gun-violence -- with the biggest being funding to do the research.

In 1996, Congress enacted a provision that essentially walled the CDC from funding studies related to gun violence. After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2013, an executive order by President Obama was signed to lift the ban, although Congress has since blocked funding.

In 2013 alone, the CDC estimated that nearly 34,000 Americans died from gunshot wounds.

"We need to advocate for dropping the congressional ban on gun-related research," said Sauaia.

→ Listen to Dr. Sauaia's interview with Colorado Public Radio

→ Read more stories from The London Independent, Live Science, Denver Post and CNN

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