The unfortunate continuance of cultural and systemic racism in the United States has long lead to cultural minorities experiencing issues of mental illness, substance use, and poverty at disproportionate rates. The opioid epidemic is disproportionately affecting the Hispanic/Latinx community for this reason.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter every aspect of our way of life, many have forgotten that the opioid epidemic is also continuing to take the lives of 130 people per day (1).
Substance Use, Opioid Epidemic and the Hispanic/Latinx Population
Latinx individuals are part of one of the fastest-growing minority populations in America. The Hispanic/Latinx population is expected to increase to comprise 30% of the US population by 2060 (1).
Despite growing in numbers, this population continues to struggle with the daily challenges of a system with undercurrents of racism and discrimination.
Substance use challenges are one of the many areas in which Latinx/Hispanic individuals are impacted disproportionately. Studies indicate that “Hispanic youth are using drugs at rates that are equivalent or higher compared to their racial/ethnic peer (1).”
Not only that, a 2017 CDC report found that “Hispanic youth had the highest prevalence of select illicit drug use (16.1%) compared to the total high school youth population (1).”
Opioid Use & the Hispanic Population
Unfortunately, the numbers are much the same for opioid use in Latinx and Hispanic individuals. The same CDC report mentioned above found that Hispanic youth also had the highest prevalence of prescription opioid misuse at 15.1% when compared to the total high school youth population (1).
More Latinx and Hispanic individuals are dying from opioid use as well, with a 2017 report finding that “among Hispanics, the opioid-related overdose death rate was 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people, and was significantly lower compared to non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, and American Indian/Alaska Natives (1).”
These overdose rates in Hispanic populations have increased over 100% from 2014 to 2017 (1).
A recent publication from SAMHSA examined sociocultural factors associated with opioid misuse among Latinx and Hispanic populations. These factors can act as barriers to, or facilitators of, treatment.
One of these is “familismo,” or the cultural value that “emphasizes the critics, role of internal family dynamics, extended social networks, and the distribution of resources through these networks (1).”
Familismo can be an asset or liability, as the belief that issues must stay within the family may keep an individual from reaching out for support. If one does reach out for that support, however, engaging in treatment interventions that incorporate the family could be beneficial.
Familismo can also be an issue when intergenerational substance use occurs. Approximately 27% of Hispanic/Latinx individuals live in multigenerational households, increasing the likelihood of intergenerational substance misuse (1).
Another factor is the role of religion, faith, and spirituality. This can create divisive feelings of comfort and safety or guilt and shame. For some, it may trigger substance use while, for others, it can be a tool for recovery.
Challenges with immigration may also play a role in the increase in opioid misuse in Hispanic/Latinx populations or act as a constant stressor. “Trauma associated with leaving one’s native country and acculturation to a new country can manifest as a mental health condition…in general, migrants who are fleeing persecution have a high prevalence of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD (1).”
It is unsurprising that discrimination must be discussed in the context of this conversation. Substance use disorders are shown to be associated with discrimination toward one’s ethnicity and immigration status in Hispanic populations (1).
All of this increases the risk for opioid addictions, as “people with mental, personality, and substance use disorders were at an increased risk for non-medical, use of prescription opioids (1).”
None of these challenges should be taken lightly. They must be considered by anyone who hopes to understand, treat, and/or create legislation regarding the opioid epidemic and how it is impacting the Hispanic/Latinx population at alarmingly disproportionate rates.
 SAMHSA (2020). The opioid crisis and the Hispanic/Latino population: an urgent issue. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved from https://store.samhsa.gov/product/The-Opioid-Crisis-and-the-Hispanic-Latino-Population-An-Urgent-Issue/PEP20-05-02-002.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental, and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published on October 29, 2020
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 29, 2020
Published on AddictionHope.com