By Robert Cyr
Despite a spike in abuse a decade ago, adult Latinos fall far behind whites in the relatively recent national trend of prescription drug abuse, according to state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Commissioner Patricia Rehmer. But there’s an increasing use among Latino teens, especially those born in the U.S., that has her and public health officials concerned.
“I’ve seen a rise in prescription drug abuse in people 12 to 18 and a decrease in ages 18 to 26,” Rehmer said. “Either we’ve been successful in getting these people detoxed, or they’re switching to heroin.”
Connecticut is one of 10 states with the highest incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among teens and people between the ages of 18 and 25, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Opioid pain relievers, the category that includes oxycodone and hydrocodone, caused 14,800 overdose deaths nationwide in 2008, and the death toll is rising, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In overdose deaths where a drug was specified, according to the CDC, nearly 75 percent involved prescription drugs,
Last year, Latinos made up 8.4 percent of the 3,503 people in the state aged 18 and older who were admitted for treatment for prescription drug abuse, well below the rate for whites at 85.9 percent. Treatment for prescription drug abuse constituted 5.6 percent of treatment for all drugs, including alcohol, Rehmer said.
According to an article in clinicalpsychiatrynews.com, U.S. – born younger Hispanics were more likely to abuse prescription drugs than Latinos born elsewhere, according to findings from a study of more than 2,000 people. Abuse of prescription drugs among U.S. Latinos, at 14.4 percent was higher than abuse for immigrant Hispanics, at 4.3 percent. Hispanic men were more likely than were women to abuse these drugs, according to the article.
Rich Figlewski, owner of the sober meeting cafe the Dry Dock in Wallingford, said only a handful of Latinos make up his regular customer base to his cafe and that he hasn’t seen Hispanics lean toward one drug more heavily solely because of their ethnicity.
“Prescription drugs are not race specific by any means,” he said. “Kids with more money, no matter who they are, are more inclined to be involved with prescription drugs in general. But they have not been the drugs of choice for inner-city kids. A big problem right now is that since there’s been some emphasis lately on prescription drugs, especially opiates. Doctors are cutting back on the amount of prescriptions they’re writing, which means heroin use has been up.”
Figlewski said that affluent Wallingford has a long tradition of blaming its problems on its neighbor – the poorer, more heavily Latino and urban city of Meriden. According to the U.S. Census, Latinos make up just 4.6 percent of Wallingford’s population, while Meriden is 28.9 percent Latino. Connecticut is 13.4 percent Latino, according to census data.
“It’s been a convenient way for ‘white’ Wallingford to blame its problems on other communities – but that’s simply not the case. Prescription drugs are in your grandmother’s medicine cabinet,” Figlewski said.
According to data from 2010, alcohol remains the drug of choice for Latinos, but more than half admitted for treatment of opiates and synthetic “opioids” used heroin. The percentage of Latinos admitted for prescription drug abuse dropped last year from the 9.1 percent treated in 2010, according to Rehmer.
“These numbers reflect people admitted for treatment for these substances, but it doesn’t capture everybody,” she said. In total, she added, 11,000 people in the state were admitted for treatment for all drugs, including 2.8 percent for prescription drug abuse and 11.8 percent for heroin.
Rehmer said the numbers are troubling, and point to people moving on to heroin from prescription painkillers because it’s cheaper.
Between 1996 and 1998, Hispanic males in Connecticut had the highest age-adjusted drug-induced death rates of all racial and ethnic groups. The overdose data, in a 2004 study by the state Department of Public Health, includes prescription drugs in the “opiate” category that also includes heroin.
From 2000 to 2002, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and other supplements made up 96 percent of all pharmaceutical-related calls to the Connecticut Poison Control Center, according to the study. During those years, 18 percent of all overdose deaths were Latino.
The Obama administration recently released a statement on the White House website calling prescription drug abuse “the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that almost one-third of people 12 and older who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.
By Robert Cyr