Opioid and Illicit Drug Use Among the Hispanic/Latino Populations


By: Roslyn Holliday Moore, Public Health Analyst, and Victoria Chau, Public Health Analyst, SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity

  SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimates that 1.1 million Hispanic/Latino youth used illicit drugs in the past year, including 208,000 who misused opioids in the past year. The rates of substance use among this population places them at a greater risk for engaging in unsafe sexual practices linked to Human Immunodeficiency viruses (HIV), Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and sexually transmitted infections (STI). The 2018 NSDUH indicates that 92 percent of Hispanic/Latinos youth with a substance use disorder did not receive treatment in a specialty facility. NSDUH reports that an estimated 17 percent of Hispanics/Latinos adults suffer from mental illness, and 15 percent of Hispanic/Latino youth experienced a major depressive episode. The co-occurrence of a substance use disorder and mental illness increases the vulnerability for poor health outcomes among this population.  Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 – October 15, is an important opportunity to raise awareness about these trends and more importantly, identify culturally and linguistically appropriate prevention and treatment strategies to reduce mental and substance use disorders in the Hispanic/Latino population.

According to the CDC, illicit drug use, including opioid misuse, often leads to adverse health consequences such as increased risk of HIV, hepatitis B and C, sexually transmitted disease and endocarditis. Alarmingly, in 2016, 26 percent of the new HIV diagnoses in the US were from the Hispanic/Latino population. Many of these consequences are associated with Hispanics/Latinos being unable to access bilingual treatment programs, fear of speaking to government agencies, and lack of health care coverage. Understanding the barriers that prevent Hispanics/Latinos from participating in treatment is key to decreasing the misuse of substances and related comorbid conditions.

A culturally and linguistically competent workforce is central to improving the behavioral health outcomes for Hispanic/Latino populations. SAMHSA’s National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health (NNED) provides training and resources for community-based organizations like the Puerto Rican Organization for Community Education and Economic Development, Inc. (PROCEED) to expand their capacity to provide counseling and treatment services for Hispanic/Latino populations.  PROCEED’s participation in NNEDLearn 2019 increased their ability to engage Hispanic/Latino youth.  As SAMHSA takes steps to ensure that culturally and linguistically appropriate  prevention and treatment services for individuals with mental and substance use disorders  are available, Hispanic Heritage month is a reminder that we all have a role in preventing alcohol and other drug misuse for vulnerable populations and ensuring the availability of recovery support services.

Learn more: 

Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit (English)
Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit (Spanish)

Finding Quality Treatment for Substance Use Disorders (English) 
Finding Quality Treatment for Substance Use Disorders (Spanish)
Strategies to Address the Opioid Epidemic in Black and Hispanic/Latino Communities

Hispanics/Latinos Face Growing Mental Health Care Crisis

HIV, Hepatitis C and Substance Abuse Prevention Among the Latino Community/VIH, La Hepatitis C y el Abuso de Sustancias en las Comunidad Latina



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