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Kansas child death report shows increase in gun-related deaths, suicides

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Kansas child death report shows increase in gun-related deaths, suicides

Oct 04, 2023 | 2:52 pm ET
By Rachel Mipro
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Kansas child death report shows increase in gun-related deaths, suicides
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Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said his office will continue efforts to stem fentanyl distribution in Kansas. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — State officials warned that fentanyl has become a significant threat to Kansas adolescents, pointing to an increase in overdose fatalities over the last two years in a recently released report on adolescent deaths in the state, though numbers for child homicide and suicide still far outstrip child drug-related deaths.

In 2021, Kansas experienced 11 child drug-related deaths. Nine of these deaths were related to fentanyl. The previous year marked 11 fentanyl deaths, compared with zero child fentanyl deaths from 2017 to 2019.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach said his office would continue ongoing efforts to stop the spread of fentanyl in Kansas in a Tuesday review of the death report.

“My office is committed to preventing every preventable death of a child,” Kobach said. “This report shows a dramatic increase in fentanyl deaths in 2020 and 2021 as compared with previous years. We are using every tool at our disposal to deal with this threat.”

The report on 2021 child fatalities, released in late September, is part of a yearly analysis conducted by a board of health professionals, law enforcement officers, educators and attorneys who examine each child death in Kansas. The Attorney General’s Office provides oversight of the board.

Data from the report shows 349 child fatalities in 2021, down from 365 fatalities in 2020. Around half of the deaths for the year were infant fatalities, the majority of which were from natural causes.

For the same year, 69 deaths were caused by unintentional injuries, with the majority of these from motor vehicle crashes. There were also 32 child homicides, five of those from child abuse, up from 22 child homicides the year before.

Twenty-three of the 32 families of homicide victims had current or past child protective services involvement before death.

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 988.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7, and confidential.

While the overall death rate has decreased, the state has still seen upticks in its suicide rate and gun-related deaths.

In 2021, 29 children in Kansas between the ages of 10-17 died by suicide; 23 were male and six were female. In 2020, the state had 26 suicide deaths. Out of the state’s 149 deaths from suicide between 2017 and 2021, 75 deaths were firearm-related.

The rate of firearm deaths in Kansas has nearly doubled over the last five years. In 2021, more children died from firearms than in car accidents, with 38 motor vehicle deaths and 44 firearm deaths respectively.

“The data provided in this report is critical to our understanding of why children are dying,” said Sara Hortenstine, executive director of the State Child Death Review Board, in a Tuesday news release. “We know that behind each of these statistics are the stories of children who lost their lives too soon, families who are still grieving, and communities that will be impacted forever. We must learn from these difficult circumstances and take action to prevent future deaths of Kansas children.”