A state summary of gunshot injuries across Alaska over several recent years shows most gun deaths during that time were suicides – but the rate of people being treated for gunshot wounds has been on the rise.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services released the new data in a Wednesday bulletin, breaking down a total of 1,488 firearms injuries reported from 2009 to 2015. Of those shootings, 1,000 were fatal.

“Alaska continues to report a high burden of firearm fatalities with a mortality rate almost double the national rate (19.7 vs. 10.3 per 100,000 persons, respectively),” state officials wrote. “Most firearm fatalities were suicides, and nearly one-third of suicide decedents had a known mental health problem. Moreover, the firearm injury hospitalization rate increased every year since 2011.”

State data shows gunshot injury hospitalizations in Alaska, as well as firearm injury deaths, by cause from 2009 to 2015. (From Alaska DHSS)

 

That time period doesn’t include 2016, when Anchorage saw at least 30 homicides – a number not seen since 1995, when 29 people were killed in Alaska’s largest city.

Anchorage police spokeswoman Renee Oistad said that as of Wednesday, the city’s 2017 count of homicide victims stood at 18 people killed in 16 incidents. That was down from the corresponding count for the same date last year, when 22 people had been killed in 17 incidents.

Three-quarters of the fatalities during the period studied by the state, or 750, were determined to have been suicides. The remaining 250 deaths included 152 homicides, 36 unintentional deaths, 32 law-enforcement shootings and 30 whose cause was undetermined.

“Of the 902 suicide or homicide decedents, 429 (48 percent) were known to have had a recent interpersonal relationship problem (e.g., intimate partner, family, or another type of relationship), and 459 (51 percent) were suspected or confirmed to have been using drugs or alcohol at the time of or shortly before the incident,” state officials wrote.

The study also contained demographic and regional breakdowns of overall shooting rates per 100,000 people. Those demographic shooting rates ranged from 15.5 among Asians and Pacific Islanders to 45.6 among American Indians and Alaska Natives; Southeast Alaska had the state’s lowest regional shooting rate at 17.7, while Northern Alaska’s was the highest at 56.1.

Gunshot patients sent to Alaska hospitals fell slightly from 2010 to 2011, but entered a steady uptick for the rest of the study period.

“During 2011–2015, hospitalizations due to an assault with a firearm nearly tripled (from 2.1 to 6.1 per 100,000 persons, respectively,)” state officials wrote. “Firearm injury death rates by manner of death were highest for suicide, followed by homicide, and unintentional injury (14.8, 3.6, and 0.7 per 100,000 persons, respectively).”

The bulletin concluded that the statistics “convey the importance” of mental-health programs as well as others which indirectly reduce gun violence, such as those aimed at preventing suicide, drug and alcohol abuse.