Hispanic Community Sees Rise In Opioid Deaths

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - As time goes on, the opioid epidemic is only getting worse.

By now it is no secret the crisis managed to infiltrate families from different socioeconomic backgrounds, race, and culture.

White Americans are still leading the opioid-related death toll, according to recent data from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, but there is a surge among different communities. 

Recent statistics showed drug overdoses killed 63,632 people, with nearly two-thirds of them involving a prescription or illicit opioid. 

Opioid-related deaths were up nearly across the board including gender and age. 

A deeper look into the numbers exposes more opioid overdose deaths among Latinos in the country, surpassing whites in year-to-year growth thanks to heroin and fentanyl in the picture.

"It doesn't surprise me. We're brought up to think that what happens in the home stays in the home," Addiction Campuses Treatment Specialist Annette Silva said. 

There was a 32.6 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 in deaths involving an opioid. Heroin deaths had a 21.7 percent increase. Meanwhile, synthetic opioids showed a 200 percent increase among Latinos. 

Silva understands the damaging effects of opioids on families. A family member is one of the statistics.

"She is now on heroin and lost her four kids, both her and her husband, and they're missing somewhere in Arizona," Silva explained. 

The Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & other Addiction Services said generally, it all comes down to treatment.

Executive Director Mary-Linden Salter said there is an ongoing push to cut down on prescriptions to help with the crisis, but there is also a downside.

"The issue is the more you cut down on prescriptions, people end up using things that are illegal in order to satisfy an ongoing addiction," Salter said.

In many cases, Hispanic families do not realize help is available to overcome addiction when there is already stigma. Lack of insurance is also a worry. 

Jenny Rodriguez sees it first-hand as the coordinator for TAADAS's REDLINE, a toll-free information and referral line funded by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health Substance Abuse Services.

"Treatment is there but people don't know that it's there," Rodriguez said. "If they don't have insurance, a lot of the times for fear of being turned down or for fear of reaching out, they don't, and so that leads to opioid-related deaths and continued addiction."

The "machismo" culture and language barriers can also play a factor when seeking treatment, or lack thereof.

"What we find especially in state-funded treatment programs is that there is access to somebody who may speak Spanish or translate in an activity or group, but that's not the same quality, if you will, as if you were participating in your own language. Yes there is access, but it is often distancing when provided," Salter added.

In 2016, there were 1,186 opioid-related overdose deaths­­­ in Tennessee. Deaths from heroin overdoses have increased since 2010 from 17 to 260 deaths, according to the state.

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