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The State of Health in New Mexico 2018

9. Unintentional Injuries

Injury Affects New Mexicans Across the Lifespan

Unintentional injury was the leading cause of death among New Mexicans aged 1 to 44 years in 2016 and the third leading cause of death among New Mexicans of all ages. In 2016 the unintentional injury death rate in New Mexico (69.5/100,000 population) was nearly 1.5 times the national rate (47.4). The leading causes of unintentional injury deaths in New Mexico are poisoning, motor vehicle traffic crashes, and falls (Figure 1). The vast majority of poisoning deaths (about 85%) are attributable to drug overdose, most of which are unintentional.

Leading causes of unintentional injury deaths vary significantly by age. Between 2012 and 2016, the leading cause of unintentional injury deaths for infants less than one year of age was suffocation; for children and young adults aged 1-24 years, it was motor vehicle traffic crashes; for persons aged 25-64 years, it was poisoning; and for persons aged 65 years and older, it was falls (Figure 2).

Suffocation Among Infants (Aged Less than One Year)

Between 2012 and 2016, 41 infants died of suffocation in New Mexico, of whom 63% were male. The New Mexico suffocation death rate among infants from 2012-2016 (30.6) was 19% higher than the United States rate (25.7/100,000). Suffocation accounted for 87% of all New Mexico unintentional injury infant deaths between 2012 and 2016.

Suffocation deaths among infants have been increasing in New Mexico. During 2007 to 2011, there were 20 such deaths in New Mexico, compared to 41 between 2012 and 2016.

Motor Vehicle Traffic Injury Among 1-24 Year Olds

Motor vehicle traffic crashes are the highest-ranked cause of death for New Mexico children and young adults aged 1 to 24 years, with 96 deaths in 2016. Those between the ages of 15 and 24 years had the highest motor vehicle traffic crash death rates in 2016 (27.0/100,000). Among New Mexicans aged 1-24, the rate for males (18.8/100,000) was approximately double that for females (9.5/100,000).

Rates of New Mexico unintentional motor vehicle traffic crash deaths among persons aged 1 to 24 decreased by half in the decade from 2002 to 2011, from 21.1/100,000 to 10.3/100,000. The reduction in motor vehicle traffic crash injury deaths during this time can be attributed to several factors, including but not limited to: the New Mexico Safety Belt Use Act of 2001; the New Mexico Child Restraint Act of 2005; and the 2005 Senate Bill 109, Interlocks for Juvenile DWI Offenders. Despite continued policy advances, the death rate rose from 2011-2013 (10.4/100,000) to 2014-2016.

Drug Overdose (Poisoning) Deaths Among 25-64 Year Olds

In 2016, 427 of the 497 New Mexico drug overdose deaths (85.9%) were among residents aged 25-64 years. Most drug overdose deaths were unintentional (428 of 497, or 86.1%). Unintentional drug overdose death rates among persons aged 25-64 have been higher in the Northeast Health Region, but much variation exists among counties in that region.

Deaths due to drug overdose can result from drug misuse such as taking too much of a drug prescribed for medical reasons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Association of Poison Control Centers have developed safety tips for the public to follow while using prescription drugs. Patients should follow the directions on the label, only take prescription drugs that were prescribed to them by a health care provider, never take larger or more frequent doses of their medication, and never share or sell their medications.

Falls Among Older Adults (Ages 65 Years and Older)

Falls are the leading cause of unintentional injury death among adults 65 years of age and older in the United States and New Mexico. The older adult fall-related death rate in New Mexico was 91.6/100,000 in 2016, which was 52% higher than the national rate (60.2/100,000).

From 2012 to 2016, there were 1,444 adults aged 65 years and older who died of fall-related injuries, with likelihood of fall-related death increasing with age.

Most fall-related injuries leading to death among older adults are hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries. Injuries from a fall can limit mobility and independent living and increase the risk of serious injury and early death. Many people who fall develop a fear of falling and may become isolated and more sedentary, further increasing their fall risk.

Most older adult falls are preventable and not a normal part of aging. Most falls happen at home, where safety hazards can include rugs that are torn or do not lie flat, stairs that are in poor repair, broken or no handrails for stairs, poor lighting, and clutter on floors or in walkways. Effective strategies for preventing falls among older adults include annual screenings and any necessary follow-up for strength and balance issues; physical activity that serves to maintain strength and balance and to increase mobility; home safety modifications to reduce hazards; periodic reviews and management of all medications that have been associated with an increased risk of falling; and annual vision checks.

Contributing Factors

Risk and Resiliency Factors

Poverty is a risk factor for unintentional injuries. Compared to those with higher income levels, adults aged 45 years and older with lower annual incomes were more likely to have a fall and also more likely to be injured in a fall (Figure 3).

Age is considered a risk factor for unintentional fall injuries and death among the elderly. Additional risks can be attributed to chronic disease, social isolation, physical inactivity, decrease in vision, increase in misuse of prescribed medication, depression, and home safety.

Infants are at highest risk for unintentional suffocation while they are sleeping. This can be attributed to unsafe sleeping practices, co-sleeping with a parent, a parent being sleep-deprived, or a parent being intoxicated. To reduce the risk of suffocation while sleeping, infants should be put to sleep alone, on their backs, in a crib (ABC). Loose bedding and soft toys should be removed from the crib prior to sleeping. Infants should not be in smoking environments.

Health Disparities

New Mexico adults aged 85+ years had the highest rate of unintentional injury death in 2016 (517.8/100,000) followed by those aged 75-84 years (154.7/100,000), and 35-44 years (83.3/100,000).

The number of New Mexico unintentional injury deaths per 100,000 population in 2016 was nearly twice as high among males (89.7) as females (50.9). The leading cause of unintentional injury death among males that year was drug overdose, which resulted in 280 deaths, followed by motor vehicle traffic crashes (270 deaths) and falls (178 deaths). The leading cause of unintentional injury death among females in 2016 was falls resulting in 179 deaths, followed by drug overdose (148 deaths), and motor vehicle traffic crashes (148 deaths).

The 2016 unintentional injury death rate was highest for American Indians (120.3), followed by Hispanics (68.5) Whites (56.5) and Black/African Americans (56.0). Asian/Pacific Islanders had the lowest unintentional injury death rate (27.7). In 2016, the leading cause of unintentional injury death for American Indians and Asian/Pacific Islanders was motor vehicle traffic crashes. Among Hispanics and African Americans, drug overdose was the leading cause of unintentional injury death, and falls was the leading cause of unintentional injury death among Whites.

Age-adjusted 2016 unintentional injury death rates were higher in rural (100.4) and mixed rural-urban (71.2) counties than urban counties (65.0), largely due to higher numbers of motor vehicle traffic crash-related deaths. The higher risk in rural and mixed rural-urban counties may be due to limited policing of speed limits, increased prevalence of two-lane roads, and longer response times of paramedics and other emergency responders after an injurious motor vehicle crash has occurred. Distracted driving, speeding, fatigue, and drunk driving are important causes of motor vehicle traffic crash-related injury deaths.

Assets and Resources

Support for health and family service professionals statewide from 2012 to 2017 through Safe Sleep education of approximately 3,000 staff members in over 150 trainings for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); Children's Medical Services; Families First; Health Promotion; Children Youth and Families Department (CYFD); registered home daycare programs; and early childhood home visitation programs for expecting and new parents is provided.

Peer-to-peer training for healthcare providers on the implementation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's fall prevention toolkit, "Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths and Injuries" (STEADI) continues to be provided. The objective of STEADI is to address multiple risk factors for falls and to provide referrals to appropriate resources, including evidence-based falls preventions programs as appropriate.


Unintentional injury is the third leading cause of death among New Mexicans of all ages. The New Mexico rate has been higher than the national rate. But the four leading causes of unintentional injury deaths rank the same in New Mexico as in the U.S.; poisoning, motor vehicle traffic crashes, falls and suffocation. Most unintentional injuries are preventable, through investment in prevention strategies including better and safer roads, more effective laws, increased law enforcement, and more education. Prevention also starts by changing habits, changing attitudes and making better choices.

Figure 1. Leading Causes of Unintentional Injury Death by Cause of Injury, New Mexico, 2012-2016 Leading Causes of Unintentional Injury Death in NM by Cause of Injury (2012-2016) Sources: NMDOH BVRHS Figure 2. Unintentional Injury Deaths by Age Group and Mechanism of Injury, New Mexico, 2012-2016 NM Unintentional Injury Deaths by Age (2012 - 2016) Sources: NMDOH BVRHS, UNM GPS Program Figure 3. Percentage of Adults Who Fell and Were Injured in a Fall by Annual Household Income, New Mexico Adults Aged 45+ Years, 2012, 2014, and 2016 Percentage of Adults Who Fell and Were Injured in a Fall by Annual Household Income Sources: NMDOH BRFSS

What is Being Done?

  • Home safety inspections and modifications: NMDOH is encouraging public safety services to participate in improving home safety. Effective activities for fire departments and EMS include conducting home visits to community members at risk for falls and to provide education about how to make homes safer to prevent falls and other injuries including promoting safe infant sleep practices. Effective activities for police agencies include conducting similar activities when they are called to homes.
  • The Adult Falls prevention partners are promoting exercise and balance falls prevention programs -- Otago, A Matter of Balance (MOB), Tai Ji Quan: Moving for Better Balance, and Tai Chi for Arthritis. The objectives of these programs are to improve strength, balance, mobility, and daily functioning to reduce one's risk of fall and related injuries.
  • The NM Board of Pharmacy, NMDOH and health care licensing boards are working to enhance the effectiveness of the Prescription Monitoring Program.
  • The Overdose Prevention Program is contracting with multi-disciplinary work groups in high-burden communities to develop local responses to the opioid epidemic.
  • The Office of Injury Prevention is conducting hospital-based Safe Sleep training for parents of newborns before hospital discharge.

What Needs to be Done?

  • Increase the provision of evidence-based Early Childhood Home Visiting programs to include at-risk families.
  • Increase the use of child safety seats and safety belts by providing more seat installation training and improved enforcement.
  • Address alcohol-impaired driving, which is among the most important preventive measures to reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and deaths. Increase and improve police traffic enforcement in high injury/death localities.
  • Improve coverage of emergency medical services in rural areas.
  • Improve opioid prescribing practices and availability of naloxone.
  • Build sustainability of older adult falls programs throughout New Mexico among healthcare professionals, hospital based liaison services, program referral system, senior care centers, assisted living facilities and retirement centers.
  • Expand hospital-based safe sleep training programs statewide.
The information provided above is from the New Mexico Department of Health's NM-IBIS web site ( The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: "Retrieved Wed, 16 June 2021 from New Mexico Department of Health, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site:".

Content updated: Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:16:58 MDT