Viewpoint: Mass shootings are a public health crisis

In the wake of mass shootings across the country, the U.S. health sector must work to prevent shootings as they would for any other contagious problem, argues Gary Slutkin, MD, founder and CEO of Cure Violence and professor of epidemiology and global health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In a recent Medscape poll, 65 percent of healthcare providers said they view gun violence as a public threat. "What we need in our country — in addition to law enforcement — is a public health system that detects early warning signs and responds beforehand to prevent these events," Dr. Slutkin wrote.

Public health systems can be particularly effective at identifying those with a tendency for violent behavior since they are able to get close to high risk persons through community programs. "Health workers around the world do this type of work every day, detecting and preventing many serious and difficult to find problems during their early stages — from AIDS to Ebola to violence," Dr. Slutkin wrote.

A person who is thinking of committing a violent act may turn to a trusted public health worker for help rather than turning to the police, Dr. Slutkin noted. Health workers can interrupt any violent plans and work to treat the issues causing the person's violent thoughts and behavior.

"If health workers had been made aware of the any of these shooters the end result of these tragedies may have been different," Dr. Slutkin wrote. "We are not doing all we can to stop mass shootings. Prevention is the bread and butter of public health."

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