Drugs and firearm deaths in New York City, 1990-1998

Sandro Galea, Jennifer Ahern, Kenneth Tardiff, Andrew C. Leon, David Vlahov

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Firearm deaths remain among the leading causes of mortality in the United States. Changing law enforcement activities, incarceration, drug use, and socioeconomic conditions may have played roles in the declining rates of firearm deaths during the 1990s. Using records from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, we analyzed the role of drugs in firearm deaths in New York City between 1990 and 1998. Positive drug toxicology was present in over half of all firearm death victims during this time. Cocaine, cannabis, opiates, and alcohol accounted for almost all of these deaths with drug-positive toxicology. There were decreases in cocaine- and alcohol-positive toxicology for firearm deaths in New York City starting in the early 1990s; there was a more gradual decrease in heroin-positive toxicology for firearm deaths. Cannabis-positive toxicology for firearm deaths increased in the early part of the 1990s and then decreased starting in the mid-1990s. Although the disparities between minority and white firearm death rates narrowed during this time, minorities remained about three times more likely to be victims of fatal firearm violence than whites in 1998. The highest firearm death rates were among African American and Latino male decedents, with a larger proportion of Latinos testing cocaine or opiate positive, while a larger proportion of African Americans tested cannabis positive. These results suggest a complex role of drugs in firearm-related deaths.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)70-86
    Number of pages17
    JournalJournal of Urban Health
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - 2002


    • Drugs
    • Firearms
    • Law Enforcement

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Health(social science)
    • Urban Studies
    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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