- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A single murder costs the country more than $1 million, an assault $80,562 and a failed suicide $16,960, according to a University of Georgia study released yesterday on the price tag of violence in terms of medical costs and lost productivity.

The total economic burden of violence in the U.S. tops $70 billion a year, the grim byproduct of family fights, homicide, child abuse, poisonings, gunshot wounds, self-mutilations, drownings, intentional falls and other horrific acts, the analysis found in the first comprehensive look at the dollar impact of American violence.

The amount — equivalent to the entire budget of the Department of Education — illustrates “the extent to which interpersonal and self-inflicted violence are draining U.S. society of vital resources,” the study said.

“It adversely affects the health and welfare of all of us through premature death, disability, health costs, lost productivity,” said lead author Phaedra Corso, a health economist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The total cost is also likely an underestimate. Leery of the stigma of suicide or losing insurance coverage, victims and family members are not always eager to report their woes to officials or even seek medical attention, with some fearful of reprisals from attackers.

The numbers revealed helpful information, however.

“Our data finds the most incidents with people aged 15 to 44 years. They comprise 44 percent of the population, but account for nearly 75 percent of injuries and 83 percent of costs due to interpersonal violence. That’s where we need to focus cost-effective preventative efforts,” she said.

Violence is the “leading cause of mortality and morbidity” in the U.S., the study said, resulting in more than 50,000 deaths and 2.2 million medically treated injuries every year. The findings reveal that the nation’s nearly 17,000 annual homicides alone cost $22.1 billion; the bill for suicides and attempted suicides is $33 billion.

The study also offered cost breakdowns. The highest percentage of medical costs from self-inflicted injuries for both men and women was poisonings, followed by gunshot injuries for men and cutting injuries among women. Overall, poisoning (66 percent) and cutting (18 percent) were the most common forms of self-injury. Firearms were used in 56 percent of completed suicides, of which 87 percent were committed by men.

The researchers used national statistics on mortality, medical expenditure and hospital emergency department records, insurance claims, labor statistics, the Consumer Price Index and other indicators from 2003 to 2005 to estimate both the per-incident and lifetime costs of violent behavior.

Disquieting as the statistics are, they assess “the burden of violence” Ms. Corso said.

“By revealing the costs of violence in different subpopulations and categories, we can also reveal specific targets for cost-effective interventions,” she said. “These numbers may take awhile to sink in with the population, but we hope they can be used as a clear reference for quite some time.”

The study was published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and funded by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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