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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Michigan Study Suggests Violent Injury is a Chronic Disease

Teens and young adults who get seriously injured in an assault are nearly twice as likely as their peers to end up back in the emergency room for a violent injury within the next two years, a new University of Michigan Injury Center study finds. The study followed nearly 600 teens and young adults for two years after an emergency room visit for an assault injury or other condition and found that the assault group’s members were twice as likely to suffer another violent injury—most within six months.

[Photo: Dr. Rebecca Cunningham]

The researchers call this repeating pattern of violent injury a re-occurring disease, but their landmark study also suggests potentially powerful opportunities to intervene in ways that could stop the cycle.

The first six months after a young person seeks care for a violence-related injury is an especially important time, the study shows, and patients with post-traumatic stress disorder or drug abuse problems have the highest likelihood of suffering injuries in another violent incident.

The findings come from a unique effort that involved multiple interviews and medical record chart reviews conducted over two years with nearly 600 Flint, Michigan residents between the ages of 14 and 24 — starting when each one sought emergency care at a single hospital. Nearly 350 of them were being treated for assault injuries at that first encounter.

Dr. Rebecca Cunningham, director of the U-M Injury Center and SPH professor of health behavior & health education, notes that it’s the first prospective study of its kind, and 85 percent of the young people enrolled were still in the study at 24 months.

“In all, nearly 37 percent of those who qualified for this study because they were being treated for assault-related injuries wound up back in the ER for another violent injury within two years, most of them within six months,” says Dr. Cunningham, who is also the lead author on the study. “This ER recidivism rate is 10 percentage points higher than the rate for what we traditionally call chronic diseases,” she continues. “Yet we have no system of standard medical care for young people who come to us for injuries suffered in a violent incident. We hope these data will help inform the development of new options for these patients.”

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