Teen deaths in Jackson County surpass state average

Teen deaths have increased in Jackson County while the rest of Oregon has seen a dramatic decline.

Oregon's statewide teen death rate dropped by 20 percent between 2000 and 2004, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2007 Kids Count Data Book. The Baltimore-based nonprofit group studies children's issues and advocates for child well-being.

Teen deaths in Jackson County increased steadily during the five years covered in the study, for a total of 14. Thirteen more teens died during the next two years, according to the county's Child Fatality Review Board.

The deaths of children between ages 15 and 19 are classified as teen deaths.

Drownings and traffic crashes typically claim more children than any other cause, said Beth Heckert, board chairwoman.

Nine teens have died in local car crashes since 2000 and four drowned, Heckert said. Seven teens have committed suicide since 2000, a number that's declined each year, the board's reports show.

"There's more information out there for people in the helping fields," said Gretchen Erickson, the county's youth suicide prevention coordinator, referring to medical professionals, social workers and educators who are working to prevent teen suicide.

"It's encouraging," she said.

Although the number of local teens who attempted suicide inched up by 4 percent last year, the county's rate was still 21 percent lower than the statewide rate for suicide attempts by teens, according to Children First for Oregon. Because Oregon's teen suicide rate historically has been higher than national trends, the state developed specific school protocols in cases of teens at risk for suicide, Erickson said.

Public education campaigns surrounding drinking and driving, swimming in cold lakes and rivers and other risky activities are likely behind the state's drop in teen deaths, officials said.

"We're seeing some of the benefit from that," said Roxann Jones, project coordinator for the county's Commission on Children and Families.

"Kids are making better decisions," she said.

The state's declining teen death rate, according to the Casey Foundation, coincides with a 20 percent decline in numbers of teens not attending school and not working. Nationally, that rate improved by just 11 percent.

Oregon also recorded a lower rate of deaths for children between the ages of 1 and 14 between 2000 and 2004 compared with children nationwide, according to the Casey Foundation. Child deaths declined by 10 percent in Oregon during that same period while they declined by 9 percent around the U.S.

Oregon's infant mortality rate also declined by 2 percent between 2000 and 2004. Just 6 percent of babies were born with low birthweight compared with the national average of 8.1 percent, giving Oregon the lowest rate for that risk factor in the country.

For more information and complete statistics, visit the Casey Foundation's Web site for the Kids Count Data Book at www.kidscount.org/sld/databook.jsp

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

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