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Arkansas expected to join national program to help drive down number of violent deaths

Crime scene technicians process a crime scene in Pine Bluff. (Photo: KATV)

It's already been implemented in 40 states and the District of Columbia - but last month's omnibus spending bill increased funding for the National Violent Death Reporting System, allowing the critical tool to come to Arkansas.

"Overall violent deaths across the state are on the rise," said Dr. Austin Porter, epidemiologist with UAMS and the Arkansas Department of Health.

In 2016, 555 people committed suicide in Arkansas - roughly half that number had their lives taken from them by homicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Dr. Porter said by using the National Violent Death Reporting System or NVDRS, the state can bring a science-based approach to the development of key resources and messages to specific demographics of people at a higher risk for using violence to end their own life or the life of someone else.

"When you are able to combine law enforcement records, toxicology reports, coroner reports - all of those together link data sets to one another and then you're able to see the complete picture," said Porter.

The completely anonymous database of violent deaths compiles much more in-depth information like mental health issues, marital status, problems at work, even issues with finances. The goal is to help provide communities with a clearer understanding of why homicide or suicide is happening in their particular part of the country and particular part of the state.

"We're finding that suicide looks different in different parts of the country and understanding that is key in our ability to prevent these violent deaths," said Tyler West, Little Rock resident and board member for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Right now Arkansas is one of ten states currently awaiting the expanded federal funding to join the NVDRS; a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health said they have applied for the funding but have not received it yet.

"We have to understand the problem so we can implement the right prevention programs in the right areas," said West.

"When the National Violent Death Reporting System was implemented in a couple of other states that were right next to each other, there were some really interesting findings. In one state they were finding that youth suicides were happening and increasing at a dramatic rate - right across the border they found that it was senior suicides that were increasing at a very dramatic rate."

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