Jan. 16 (UPI) -- People injured as a result of gun violence in the United States have higher rates of chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder and other physical and mental health problems in the months after these incidents than those hurt in motor vehicle crashes, a new analysis has revealed.
In findings published Thursday in the journal Annals of Surgery, researchers note that, among survivors of firearm injury, 68 percent reported daily pain, 53 percent screened positive for PTSD, 39 percent reported a new functional limitation in an activity of daily living -- like walking, cooking, eating or going to the bathroom -- and 59 percent had not yet returned to work.
In all, three out of every four firearm injury survivors had at least one of these negative long-term outcomes.
"We need to better understand the causes of these outcomes so that we can find opportunities for intervention," study co-author Juan P. Herrera-Escobar, research director of Long-Term Outcomes in Trauma in the Center for Surgery and Public Health at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in a statement. "This work has profound implications for trauma systems and highlights the failure to help patients receive the proper services for a successful recovery after a traumatic, firearm-related injury."
According to the Giffords Law Center, 36,000 Americans are killed by guns each year, while an additional 100,000 are shot and injured. In 2017, gun deaths reached their highest level in at least 40 years, with 39,773 deaths, the organization reports.
To compare, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 3 million people nationwide are non-fatally injured in motor vehicle crashes annually. Crash-related injuries are costly, with medical care expenditures and lost productivity exceeding $75 billion in 2017.
As part of the Functional Outcomes and Recovery after Trauma Emergencies, or FORTE, project, Herrera-Escobar and his colleagues surveyed adults who had survived traumatic injury after being treated at one of three level-I trauma centers in Boston between 2015 and 2018. FORTE is designed to measure long-term outcomes that are meaningful to patients and their families, including functional status, health-related quality of life, treatment adherence, and more.
Of 177 eligible firearm injury survivors, the team successfully contacted 100 and, ultimately, 63 completed the survey. The 35 percent response rate was much higher than in previous studies of firearm injury survivors, the authors said.
They analyzed outcomes for people who had survived firearm injury six to 12 months after these incidents and compared them to people who had survived similar injuries sustained in motor vehicle crashes.
Not only were rates for chronic pain and PTSD significantly higher than rates among the general population, survivors of firearm injury were significantly more likely to have daily pain or PTSD. They also had worse physical and mental health-related quality-of-life than survivors with similar injuries from motor vehicle crashes, researchers said.
"When it comes to the public health problem posed by firearm injury, death is just one piece of the puzzle," Herrera-Escobar said. "Mortality rates for trauma patients have been dropping significantly over the last 20 years, but this presents a new challenge: What will we do for patients whose lives we save but who continue to suffer from the repercussions of traumatic injury? Our study shows that injury, and especially firearm injury, casts a long shadow over the lives of those who survive."