68% of deaths from firearms are from self-harm, majority in older men in rural regions

October 19, 2020

A new study of gun injuries and deaths in Ontario found that 68% of firearm-related deaths were from self-harm, and they most often occurred in older men living in rural regions, pointing to the need for targeted prevention efforts. The study is published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

There were 2009 injuries secondary to self-harm over the study period, and "this is equivalent to a firearm-related injury ... every 3 days; 92% of these injuries were fatal," writes Dr. David Gomez, a trauma surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital, Unity Health Toronto, adjunct staff scientist at ICES, and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, with coauthors.

In Canada, nonfatal firearm-related injuries are largely unmeasured.

To better understand injuries and deaths from firearms, a major cause of morbidity and mortality, researchers looked at data on all residents of Ontario with a valid OHIP number who were injured or died of gun injuries between 2002 and 2016. They used hospital discharge and provincial death records to categorize injuries as assault, unintentional, self-harm and undetermined intent.

Some findings:Targeted initiatives are required to address the different causes of injuries in rural and urban regions.

"This urban-rural divide highlights the need for tailored interventions to address these 2 contrasting injury patterns," write the authors. "Our findings highlight the need for suicide-prevention strategies in rural Ontario targeted at men aged 45 or older. Restricting access to lethal methods by such means as safe-storage campaigns and reduction in firearm ownership must go hand in hand with depression screening and treatment."

"Firearm-related injuries and deaths in Ontario, Canada, 2002-2016: a population-based study" is published October 19, 2020.
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Canadian Medical Association Journal

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