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Fatal injuries focus of study

More people in Florida die from suicide than homicide.

Elderly people continue to die from falls, even though simple precautions can prevent many falls.

Florida remains a leader in bicycle-related deaths, but the state still has no law requiring riders to wear helmets.

Those are just some of the conclusions in a new, comprehensive study of fatal injuries in Florida.

It is the first time that state public health officials have compiled such substantive, county-by-county facts about the kinds of injuries that are killing Floridians.

"It's depressing, the word is depressing," said Joyner Sims, an assistant health officer for the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative whose office compiled the report called "Injuries in Florida. 1993 Mortality Facts."

But there's a reason for such a report. Sims said county health departments will now have breakdowns of fatal injuries in their areas, as well as details on age, sex and race of victims. As a result, counties can better focus and strengthen prevention programs.

In all, there were 8,524 injury-related deaths in Florida in 1993, up by 347 from 1992. Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Pinellas were the top five counties in the number of deaths.

Fatal injuries can be unintentional, such as car crashes, falls and drownings, or intentional, such as suicide and homicide.

The top cause of fatal injuries in Florida was firearms. That category included murders, suicides and unintentional shootings that involved firearms.

But broken apart, the number of suicides, 2,081, actually exceeded the number of homicides, 1,332.

More men commit suicide than women, more whites than blacks, and more people between the ages of 35 to 44 than any other age group.

The report says more study is needed to understand the problems and risk factors leading to such a high incidence of suicide in that middle-age population. The report also recommends developing a suicide prevention curriculum in schools and outreach programs for the elderly. The second highest incidence of suicide was in the 75-and-older group.

Pinellas had 159 deaths from suicide; Hillsborough had 128; Pasco had 51; Hernando had 16; and Citrus had 23.

In other categories:

Falls are the No. 1 cause of injury-death for people 75 and older. Of the 700 fall-related deaths in 1993, 455 involved people 75 and older. Falls have increased by 17 percent over the past five years. Dade, Broward and Pinellas had the largest number of fall-related deaths.

Homes should be made "fall-proof" by checking for loose rugs, bad lighting and installing stair and bathroom railings. Checking to ensure shoes fit properly and making sure eyesight problems are corrected can also help prevent falls.

Year-round warm weather and plenty of beaches and pools add to the risk of drowning deaths. Florida has the third-highest drowning fatality rate in the nation, with 336 drowning deaths in 1993. Drowning was the leading cause of death for children ages 1 through 4 in 1993.

Deaths from poisoning grew by 31 percent between 1992 and 1993, with 240 fatalities in 1992 and 315 in 1993. More middle-age people are dying from poisoning than children. The study couldn't pinpoint why, but there were only seven poison-related deaths of children up to age 14, compared to 124 deaths for people between 35 and 44.

Florida had 118 bicycle-related deaths in 1993, the second highest in the nation. Generally, the deaths are related to collisions with vehicles. The best way to prevent bike-related injuries and deaths is by wearing a helmet. Florida lawmakers have not passed a helmet law.