Fewer people died in 2007 from traffic crashes and homicides, according to the annual King County Medical Examiner report, released last week.
The report includes statistics on causes of death, and county officials' plans on how to reduce the risk of such deaths in the future. It covers suspicious, sudden, unexpected, or violent deaths in King County for the previous year, as well as trends in homicides, traffic fatalities and drug overdose deaths.
The report does not cover the 2008 escalation in King County youth homicides.
The medical examiner's office says many of the deaths are preventable.
"To prevent unnecessary deaths, we need to understand what causes them," said Dr. David Fleming, director and health officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County. "We target prevention efforts based on our understanding of circumstances, risk factors and trends of these deaths."
In 2007, 13,042 people died, and the medical examiner performed autopsies approximately 10 percent (1367) of the time. Jurisdictional deaths included: 863 natural deaths, 687 accidental deaths, 223 suicides, 170 traffic deaths, 76 homicides, and 53 undetermined causes.
"Each death we review receives our fullest respect and attention and our hearts go out to the friends and families who have suffered these losses," said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Richard Harruff. "Our staff works extremely hard to investigate deaths and resolve the manner and cause of death as quickly as possible, so grieving loved ones can find some solace."
The 2009 budget challenges facing Public Health include cuts to the King County Medical Examiner office. In the 2009 adopted county budget, reductions include the elimination of three full time death investigators on July 1st 2009 if additional funding is not secured to support public health. Fewer staff will reduce time spent per death investigation and may delay transport of bodies for examination. Furthermore, death investigators will be delayed in how quickly they can get to a death scene and will have less time to collect and document information.
Compared with 2006, King County had fewer homicides and fewer fatal traffic crashes. Deaths from natural causes were the only increase in manner of death. Firearms were the most frequent instrument of death in homicides and suicides. Of the 149 firearm deaths in 2007, 93 were classified as suicides, 55 as homicides, and one as accidental.
Comparison of 2007 and 2006 deaths in Raw Numbers
Natural deaths 863 752
Accidental deaths 687 721
Drugs and poison 302 313
Suicide 223 227
Traffic 170 221
Homicide 76 91
Targeted prevention efforts at Public Health
The most common cause of accidental death was falls (292); 232 of the deaths caused by falls occurred in the age group 70 years and over.
Public Health's response: Public Health's Emergency Medical Services Division (EMS) and local fire departments work to prevent falls in the home and enroll older adults who needed 9-1-1 services in the past for fall-related injuries into a fall prevention program. Falls can result in fractures, and subsequent health complications, and even death, while convalescing.
More information on the fall prevention program: http://www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ems/community/fallprevention.aspx
Suicide and homicide
Public Health's response: To prevent suicide deaths, Public Health recommends parents, peers, children of elderly parents, and health care providers learn the warning signs of suicide (www.yspp.org) and where to find help (www.crisisclinic.org or 1-866-427-4747).
Public Health's Violence & Injury Prevention Unit is a partner in LOK-IT-UP, a campaign which recommends storing all firearms locked and unloaded to help reduce suicide risk The unit also trains health care providers to work with patients at-risk for suicide to remove potential methods of death (i.e. firearms) from their surroundings. Free training kits for health care providers are available. Call 206-263-8160.
Public Health's response: The Violence & Injury Prevention Unit leads the King County Traffic Safety Coalition, a multi-agency group that works to alleviate the leading causes of traffic fatalities, including alcohol and drug impairment, speed, and failure to wear seat belts.
To view the full, comprehensive King County Medical Examiner's 2007 annual report: www.kingcounty.gov/health/examiner