Over the last decade, a significant amount of resources and effort in the public health field have gone toward public crises prevention. As citizens, we’ve become all too familiar with morbid news reports of gun violence, mass shootings in unthinkable places—churches, schools, movie theaters—dangerous health risks in our drinking water and worsening drug epidemics that claim a shocking number of lives per year.
Below, we’ve outlined four events that highlight the importance of creating public health initiatives to address and prevent these crises from occurring in the future.
In 2016, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to officially declare gun violence a public health crisis.5 This declaration came on the heels of the Orlando nightclub shooting, which left 50 innocent victims dead and another 53 wounded.6 In the decade leading up to this tragedy, more than 300,000 Americans died from gun violence.7 The new AMA classification suggests that gun violence should be treated more like the public health crisis it is and less like a political issue.
Flint Water Crisis
Since 2014, the drinking water in this town of just under 100,000 residents in Michigan has been contaminated with high levels of lead. The issue started when city officials elected to change the city’s fresh water source from Lake Huron water treated by the City of Detroit to water from the Flint River in an effort to save money. Officials soon learned of the toxicity levels of the river, yet they did nothing about it. Their decision to not act has resulted in at least 102,000 people being exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water.8
Because of the toxic water supply, there is now a high risk for those drinking the water in Flint to contract Legionnaires’ disease and other related health issues. In fact, in January 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, ultimately leading to 87 cases and 10 deaths between June 2014 and November 2015.9
But that’s not all. Another unseen risk stems from the stress, anxiety and depression Flint locals are facing from this issue.10 To date, the situation in Flint has yet to be resolved, though multiple lawsuits have been filed, including a $722 million class action lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of the residents affected by the water crisis.11
Border Crossing Deaths
The Mexican-American border is a continuing hot topic in the United States. What many people may not realize is the high number of the immigrants from Mexico who are killed while trying to cross the border, never completing their journey into the United States.
In 2012, there were 463 migrant deaths, equal to five deaths every four days.12 In the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector alone, nearly 2,500 bodies were recovered between 2001 and 2014.13 This is largely due to an effort beginning in the early 90s to divert those crossing into the country into more remote and dangerous areas, making the journey increasingly difficult and dangerous
Immigrants crossing the border face a number of threats, including:14
- Falling from moving trains
- Dehydration or heat stroke
Fortunately, the number of border-related deaths has dropped since 2012-13 and will hopefully continue to do so.15
As of 2017, drug overdoses are now responsible for killing more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined.16 After killing more than 33,000 people in 2015, public health officials deemed the opioid epidemic to be the worst drug crisis in American history.17 Since then, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launched the Opioid Initiative, which focuses on three key areas to address the epidemic: reducing opioid prescription practices, providing medication-assisted treatment and using naloxone.18 However, the number of opioid overdose victims shows no signs of decreasing.
As these public health issues continue to affect our communities, it’s important that we devise new, stronger efforts to curb these increasingly dire circumstances sooner.
Learn more about the importance of public health and how you can help in the future.