The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have recently classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. Prescription medication abuse is extremely dangerous, and is a serious public health concern that can lead to addiction and use of other drugs, such as heroin. In Connecticut, statistics reported by the Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services (DMHAS) indicate that in 2013 of the 2,722 people admitted for synthetic opiate abuse, 9.4 percent were Hispanic compared to the 81 percent Caucasian and the less than 4 percent African American.
Under the umbrella of prescription medication is anything from painkillers, opioids and narcotic pain relievers — such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Opana, and methadone — to cough syrups and antidepressants. In 2010, enough of these prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month. While a good portion of these were used as they were prescribed, many found their ways into the hands of people who misused and abused them.
Mary Kate Mason, (DMHAS) spokesperson, explains prescription substance abuse, saying, “We call it abuse and misuse. Misuse is when you are taking it other than why it’s prescribed, abuse is when you’re using it to get high. When it crosses into addiction is when your need starts to invade other parts of your life. Your need to be high and your drug seeking behavior starts to impact your well being, your relationships, your ability to hold a job, your thought patterns, and one of the things you’re primarily doing is looking for a substance to get you through the day.”
Mason explains that the 2013 figures they have on this abuse is a very small case study for the area, as DMHAS takes people who are 18 and over, as well as people who are underinsured or uninsured. Therefore this data does not reflect the entire population, and doesn’t include youth, or people who go to a private medical provider for opiate addiction.
“Prescription drugs are opiates,” she explains. “They’re synthetic opiates, where heroine is a naturally occurring opiate, So, you’re kind of getting the same high from different things. Many times people start with prescription drugs and when their source dries up or they can’t afford it anymore, they might switch to heroin, because it’s a very similar high, and once you’re addicted you can meet the needs with either or. So people think that prescription drugs are not as dangerous as heroin because they are prescribed.”
Mason states that the number of people admitted for heroin in 2013 was much larger than for prescription medication; larger by approximately 7,500 people. She says that of the over 10,000 people admitted for heroin 21 percent (2,135) identified as Hispanic. As a whole, Latinos make up 14 percent of Connecticut’s population.
In comparison to what CTLatinoNews.com found last year, the percentages of Latinos admitted for prescription drug abuse at DMHAS have remained steady, with 8.7 percent in 2012, 8.4 percent in 2011 and 9.1 percent in 2010. Last year’s numbers also show that of the 11,000 people admitted for treatment for all drugs, 2.8 percent were Latinos admitted for prescription drug abuse and 11.8 percent for heroin.
Deb Dettor Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), responds to these statistics, saying, “I think frankly the face of addiction is changing a lot, and more and more people are addicted to opiates and heroin, and some of the drugs we’re learning are epidemics in our community.
“What I’m hearing, depending on what state you’re in, a lot of folks start out using prescription pain medication and can often get addicted to that,” says Deter, “and beyond that, they start using street drugs, like heroine, especially right now because it is very cheap and easy to get and very pure.”
“We want to teach the community about the fact that you can live with an addiction problem,” Deter says. “You can get better; you can get into recovery and stay in recovery and you can live a lifestyle that’s clean and sober.”
However, many of the people may be out of the reach of programs like Deter’s and Mason’s because — according to a new study by the Partnership at Drugfree.org done in 2013 — it may be the younger generation (under 18) that is raising the numbers of prescription drug abuse in the Latino community.
A nationwide study found that Hispanic teens are now almost twice as likely as they were two years ago to have misused or abused a prescription medication at least once in their lifetime (30 percent in 2012, compared to 17 percent in 2010).
This is a notable 76 percent increase over two years. This research shows that Hispanic teens, compared to other teens from different ethnic groups, are using drugs at alarmingly higher levels. It also revealed that Hispanic teens are more likely to be offered drugs, and stated that “substance abuse has become normalized behavior for many Latino youth.”
It was estimated by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America that in 2005 one in five Hispanic teens had misused prescription drugs.
As reported by the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, most prescription medication is being used by people who got the drugs from friends and family. Over 70 percent of people reported friends and family as their main source.
While Deter and Mason work with those adults within the Connecticut community that seek help, they cannot go into every home and close the medicine cabinet door. This responsibility lies within the home. But it is their hope that, as prescription medication abuse is recognized as a serious problem that can lead to other drug addictions, parents and other family members will start to close, and to lock these doors on their own.
Photo: courtesy of hispanicaccess.org