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Latino youth at higher risk for drug use

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Today, sadly it is no longer a surprise to learn that teenagers are curious about and experiment with drugs. However, gone are the days when they would simply sneak a couple of puffs from a joint or make off with some rum from the liquor cabinet.  Today, we are seeing an alarming increase in drug use among Latino youth. Aside from marijuana and alcohol, their other drugs of choice are prescription drugs, crystal methamphetamine, crack, heroin and ecstasy.  In a study completed in 2012, by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future (1975-2012), where in part they surveyed Latino 8th, 10th and 12 graders it was noted that they had the highest usage rate for a number of the most dangerous drugs such as crack and meth.  This year, the numbers aren’t any better.  The Partnership at recently released research from Partnership Attitude Tracking Study (PATS) which showed that Latino teens are using drugs at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups.

The first study showed that 8th grades in particular, Latinos had the highest rate of illicit drug use overall and the highest rates for most drugs.  For instance, in the 8th grade the prevalence of marijuana use among Latinos was 17%, and 10% for binge drinking both statistics higher than White and African American youths.  One 8th grader in eight (12%) reported trying inhalants and 1 in 37 (2.7%) reported inhalant use within a month of the survey and Marijuana had been tried by one in every six 8th graders (15%).  One of the dynamics that keeps the drug epidemic going is the emergence of new drugs whose hazards may not be fully known.  In recent years we have seen the emergence and popularity of Rohypnol, ketamine, GHB, Oxycontin, Adderall and bath salts.

The second and more recent study by PATS (2013) it was noted that more than 54% of Latino teens used illicit drugs in comparison to 45% for African-American teens and 43% of Caucasian teens. Nearly half of the Latino teens, 47% used marijuana compared to 39% for African American teens and 36% for Caucasian teens.  Furthermore, 13% reported using cocaine compared to 8% for African-American teens and 3% for Caucasian teens.  Regarding two other very popular drugs ecstasy and alcohol, 13% of Latino teens used ecstasy compared to 8% for African American teens and 6% for Caucasian teens.

The PATS study also noted that Latino teens today are nearly twice as likely as they were two years ago to abuse or misuse prescription drugs at least once in their lifetime.  16% of the Latino teens reported engaging in risky behavior of mixing alcohol with abusing prescription medications (without a prescription), compared to 6% for African-American teens and 11% for Caucasian teens.  This frightening statistic highlights the ease and accessibility that exists today in obtaining prescription drugs on the streets.

From 200-2005, Somerville, MA experienced a large number of youth overdoses.  That community responded by following the CDC recommendations for contagion containment and a community coalition was born to address the drug problem in that area.  If Latino communities do not remain vigilant and address these distressing facts we will be losing more Latino youths to addiction and overdose than in any other tragic circumstance.

By Being Latino Contributor, Maria G. Rodriguez, RN, BSN, CHHC,



About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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