Children in the U.S. are dying at higher rates from firearms, a new study says.

The study, published Oct. 5 in the scientific research journal Pediatrics, explores rates of fatal and nonfatal pediatric injuries by intent of harm and mechanism of injury.

Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital compiled data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics to observe trends in various categories of fatal and nonfatal pediatric injuries reported from 2011 to 2021.Man and woman pose with child

Over that decade, while nonfatal pediatric injuries declined, adolescent deaths by homicide, suicide and accidental death increased, according to the study, “Trends in Pediatric Nonfatal and Fatal Injuries.” Pediatric firearm fatalities increased by 87% and drug poisoning fatalities increased by 133%. Nonfatal pediatric firearm injuries and drug poisoning injuries also increased during this time — 113% and nearly 10% respectively.

Additionally, pediatric injury fatalities rose during the peak years of the pandemic, from 2020 to 2021. In 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, and that continued in 2021. Firearm fatalities disproportionately impact children of color, with the 2021 death rate 11 times higher for Black children compared to white children, according to another recent study in Pediatrics.

Still, some improvements in pediatric safety were shown in the October study. The data shows declines in nonfatal injuries such as falls, motor vehicle accidents and cut-pierce injuries.

The researchers attribute some of these positive trends to improvements in pediatric safety legislation that has contributed to decreasing common nonfatal injuries. For example, safety education and legal requirements for booster seat usage have significantly improved since 2011, likely contributing to a higher safety rate.

The researchers note, however, that the trends in fatal pediatric injuries highlight the stark need for more comprehensive pediatric injury prevention protocols, specifically regarding gun control and prescription drug access.

Many studies have shown increases in mental health issues among America’s youth in recent years, which can lead to adolescents turning to methods of self-harm or self-medication through illicit drug use, the study said. The COVID-19 pandemic made this situation worse, reflected the rise of fatal pediatric injury rates after 2020.

Researchers said that more attention needs to be given to limit easy access to drugs and guns in U.S. households. When considering suicide in adolescents, the use of guns in suicide attempts is particularly concerning as it is many times lethal.

The study pointed out that states with laws that strengthen the storage requirements for guns in households have lower adolescent suicide rates. Dedicating more resources to strengthening gun and storage safety legislation could make a significant difference, the researchers said.

More public health legislation and resources should be delegated toward strengthening gun safety legislation, limiting access to prescription medications and improving access to mental health resources, they said.

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