PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Firearm injuries treated in Oregon emergency departments increased 90% from 2019 to 2021, a new report from Oregon Health and Science University and Portland State University’s School of Public Health revealed.
The report, published Thursday, is a first-of-its-kind and will be updated quarterly. It found the highest per-capita rates of firearm injury visits to emergency departments occurred in Douglas, Jefferson and Multnomah counties.
“This report shows that firearm injuries are not just a Portland problem,” said Kathleen Carlson, Ph.D., director of the new Gun Violence Prevention Research Center at OHSU and an associate professor in the OHSU-Portland State University School of Public Health.
The report revealed there have been thousands of injuries affecting urban and rural counties alike across Oregon.
In 2020, 592 people in Oregon died from firearm injuries, according to the report. In the same year, 730 people survived gunshots and were treated in hospital emergency rooms and urgent care centers.
For the injuries where a cause could be determined, the report found that unintentional injuries accounted for the greatest proportion of injuries treated from January 2018 to June 2021.
“We know a lot about firearm deaths, but we don’t know as much about nonfatal injuries,” said Susan DeFrancesco, a senior research project manager in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and one of the researchers for the report. “Our goal is to provide data that contribute to better understanding the burden of firearm injury in our state.”
The authors are working to improve reporting among hospital emergency departments that provide the data to the state surveillance system that researchers are using.
OHSU said currently only about 40% of 1,753 manually-reviewed records of firearm injury emergency department visits, reported to the system from 2018 to 2021, included information about how the injury occurred.
This means including information such as whether the firearm injury was the result of an unintended discharge like a hunting accident, or whether it was an assault or attempted suicide.
OHSU said this makes it more challenging to determine what prevention strategies are the most effective for the majority of nonfatal firearm injuries that occur in Oregon.
One thing that is clear in the report is that people of color are injured at a disproportionately higher rate compared to their share of the overall population in the state.
The report revealed that about 14% of the total number of firearm injury emergency department visits were among people who identified as Black or African American, but that group only comprises 2% of the state’s population.
According to the report, this disproportionate burden occurs due to “upstream” causes of health and injury disparities, meaning historical practices and policies have resulted in community disinvestment and unequal access to social, economic and educational opportunities, which influence people’s health and safety.
The center’s inaugural report will be updated regularly in an online dashboard as researchers compile state surveillance data.
Editor’s note: The headline on a previous version of this article said the Oregon firearm injuries increased 90% from 2019 to 2020. This was incorrect. The increase occurred from 2019 to 2021.