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C’mon Congress — it’s time to take the brain injury epidemic seriously

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“From the battlefields to local athletic fields, traumatic brain injuries are an epidemic across our nation” noted Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J). in 2020. Pascrell, along with his colleague from across the aisle, Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), stated “brain injury should never be minimized. Unfortunately, too many people, including elected leaders, are not familiar with the terrible realities of traumatic brain injury.”

What too many think of as just a bump to the head is a much bigger problem than many understand. But is there a brain injury epidemic? You bet. Consider the numbers.

Each year in the U.S. traumatic brain injury (TBI) results in approximately 2.8 million emergency department visits, hospitalizations or deaths. More than one-quarter million Americans are hospitalized each year with a TBI. In 2019, about 166 Americans died from TBI-related injury each day and about 15 percent of U.S. high school students self-reported one or more sports- or recreation-related concussions within the preceding 12 months.

Potentially hundreds of thousands more Americans sustain TBIs yearly, but are not included in these estimates because they do not seek medical treatment or are treated in physicians’ offices, urgent care clinics, or military or Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Americans are becoming more aware of the existence of brain injury and their potential long-term problems. News about concussed NFL players and TBIs in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has likely contributed to more people visiting emergency departments with suspected TBI over the past two decades. 

While we typically think of athletes and TBI, brain injury can impact people at all ages — from every walk of life, in their work and in relationships with family and friends — for a lifetime. One often overlooked population routinely impacted by the long-term effects of brain injury, is survivors of intimate partner violence, who have endured repeated blows to the head or prolonged periods without oxygen due to strangulation. We’re also seeing more individuals who thanks to lifesaving drugs have survived an opioid overdose but are left with irreversible brain damage. And, more recently many long-hauler COVID patients are experiencing high rates of cognitive dysfunction.

Although public awareness of TBI has shifted dramatically since it was dubbed “a silent epidemic” in 1980, a deeper understanding of its effects has not garnered attention of many professionals outside of medical rehabilitation. A gap remains in knowledge about brain injury, understanding its implications for behavioral health conditions and active consideration of treatment implications.

Fortunately, Reps Pascrell and Bacon, Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), and others in Congress grasp the seriousness of brain injury.   

We want more lawmakers and more citizens to comprehend the true extent of this problem and work towards solutions.

On March 16, we welcome members of the Capitol Hill community and across our nation to join us for Brain Injury Awareness Day to learn more about the challenges created by TBI and the steps governments and NGOs are taking to address the epidemic. We urge Congress to prioritize funding for federal programs that support both civilians and military personnel living with brain injuries and for finding effective treatments for TBI. The administration for Community Living’s Traumatic Brain Injury State Partnership Program is the ONLY federal program that funds service delivery systems for individuals with brain injury, and only just over half of the states receive funds. It is imperative that every state be able to provide robust services to individuals impacted by brain injury, regardless of whether injured in Alabama or Wyoming. Lastly, while we know that brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability in our country, the exact numbers are unknown. It is imperative that Congress both support the CDC’s efforts to better understand the full impact of brain injury on our country by funding the National Concussion Surveillance System. 

Register here:

Rebeccah Wolfkiel is the Executive Director of the National State Association of State Head Injury Administrators. Michael Wyand, DVM, PhD, is the CEO of Oxeia Biopharmaceuticals. Oxeia is conducting Phase 2 human clinical studies for its therapeutic drug, OXE-103, to treat concussions.

Tags Bill Pascrell Brain damage Catherine Cortez Masto Joni Ernst Traumatic brain injury

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