King County became safer in at least three respects in 2011, thanks to downturns in traffic deaths, drug-related deaths and homicides. But those decreases were offset by a 10-year high in suicides.
The information comes from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office (KCMEO) 2011 Annual Report, a compendium of trends and statistics focused on county deaths. Released in November, the 118-page report provides in-depth analysis of deaths that fell under the jurisdiction of the KCMEO, including sudden, unexpected, suspicious or violent deaths.
In 2011, the office examined the deaths of 2,036 people. Autopsies were performed in 59 percent of the cases.
Statistics from 2011 are the most recent available.
The report reveals that 135 people died in traffic-related deaths. By comparison, 150 people in 2010 were killed in motor vehicle collisions. There were also fewer traffic-related deaths than accidental drug overdoses, which accounted for 203 deaths.
The total number of deaths due to drugs and poisons in 2011 fell to 268, three fewer than the previous year. Of the 268 deaths cited in the most recent report, more than two-thirds were caused by intoxication from multiple drugs.
Of particular note to the medical examiner’s office was the drug oxycodone. An opioid narcotic pain reliever sometimes sold under the brand name OxyContin, traces of the drug were found in 85 of the deceased. The report notes that two years earlier, in 2009, oxycodone was present in 105 deaths.
Homicides also dropped in 2011, falling to 54. The previous year, 59 people were killed in homicides, which are defined by KCMEO as deaths that result from “injuries inflicted by another person.” A homicide does not necessarily imply the other person acted out of criminal intent.
Firearms proved to be the deadliest method when it came to homicides, resulting in the deaths of 35 people. The next highest method was stabbing, which led to nine deaths.
But the number of homicides pales in comparison with the number of suicides. In 2011, 265 people caused “self-inflicted injuries with evidence of intent” to end their own lives, the highest number of suicides in the past decade. King County residents who ended their lives through the Washington Death with Dignity Act were not included in the total.
Even though suicides involve self-inflicted injuries and homicides refer to injuries caused by another person, the two share at least one link: firearms. One hundred sixteen people who committed suicide chose a firearm.
When the number of suicides and homicides caused by firearms are combined with three undetermined firearms deaths, firearms killed 154 people. The medical examiner investigates all deaths caused by firearms.
The role alcohol played in deaths in 2011 also caught the attention of KCMEO. While alcohol caused seven accidental deaths, alcohol, in combination with other drugs, was listed as the cause of death for 54 people.
But while the report focuses on the end of life for more than 2,000 people, some of those deaths represented a beginning.
Outside agencies notified the KCMEO that 52 deceased people were eligible for organ donations. A total of 136 organs were donated in 2011, including 76 kidneys and 27 livers.
In addition, 99 donors provided tissue replacement in the form of bone, skin, cartilage, heart valves and corneas. Tissue replacement recipients received more than 2,400 donations.
“In this way,” the report states, “the King County Medical Examiner’s Office works to maximize the donation of organs and tissues that go directly to save lives.”