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AZ Child Deaths, Many Preventable, Increased in 2021


Monday, December 5, 2022   

A grim reminder is out - that Arizona could be doing more to keep its youngest residents safe and healthy.

The state's 29th annual Child Fatality Report says a total of 863 Arizona children died last year - and almost half of those deaths were considered preventable.

They include fatalities from abuse and neglect, COVID-19, drowning, firearm injuries - as well as substance-related causes, and sudden unexpected infant deaths. And all increased last year compared to 2020.

Dr. Mary Rimsza - the medical director of the Child Fatality Review program of the Arizona Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and chair of the review team - said it's unusual to see such a substantial increase, but this tragic information is useful.

"Frankly," said Rimsza, "a major purpose of us doing this report is to identify preventable deaths and to make recommendations on how future deaths can be prevented. That is our mission."

The report says Arizona's child mortality rate increased 4.7% from 2020 to 2021, and it's higher among boys than among girls.

In 2021, 31 children's deaths were attributed to COVID-19, compared to 12 in 2020.

Another category with an alarming increase was drowning - the rate jumped 108%. And in substance-related deaths, poisoning was the leading factor.

Of the 49 child poisoning fatalities Rimsza said 46 were opiate overdoses, and fentanyl was responsible for 44 of them.

"The deaths due to fentanyl and other opiate overdoses, most all the opiate deaths in children were due to fentanyl," said Rimsza. "It is a huge problem in our state. It is a very tragic event - oftentimes, it could be the first time a young person tried a drug."

Rimsza added that the message to Arizona families is that there are many steps families can take to prevent a tragedy - from ensuring safe sleep environments for infants, to making sure pool areas are supervised and well fenced, to storing firearms safely and securely.

The report contains a full list of recommendations.

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