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Report: Overdose Trends Among Latino Populations a Red Flag

March 23, 2021

Overdose deaths among the Latino populations in California and across the U.S. overall have sharply risen in recent years, according to research published this month by the Drug Policy Alliance. The director of the organization’s California policy office calls the findings “a canary in the coal mine” for groups that have traditionally seen fewer overdose deaths than the national average for the general population.

The Drug Policy Alliance has published the report, titled “The Impact of the Overdose Crisis on the Latino Community in California,” on its website. Among its findings:

  • The drug overdose rate among the U.S. Latino population in 2017 was 10.6 per 100,000, or roughly half of the overall U.S. rate (21.7 per 100,000). Still, the 2017 rate among the Latino population was a 158% increase from three years prior.
  • Between 2016 and 2019, opioid-involved deaths among Latinos in California surged from 2.59 per 100,000 to 5.07. That figure accounts for polysubstance use, i.e., overdoses that also involved the presence of cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription medications such as amphetamine, methylphenidate and other drugs used to treat disorders such as ADHD.
  • Prescription opioids have played a significant role in the rise of overdose deaths among California Latinos, increasing 138% (1.57 per 100,000 to 3.75) from 2015 to 2019.
  • Fentanyl-involved deaths, meanwhile, have skyrocketed from 0.08 per 100,000 in 2013 to 2.82 in 2019, and fentanyl displaced heroin as the No. 2 substance involved in drug overdose deaths in California in 2018.

Policy recommendations

Drug Policy Alliance included a series of recommendations in its report, covering public policy, harm reduction strategies, culturally competent approaches and research.

Specifically, the organization has called for the authorization of overdose prevention programs and syringe services, particularly in four hard-hit California counties. DPA also voiced support for several initiatives to expand access to medication-assisted treatment and the removal of local bans on marijuana business, based on the argument that marijuana can be used as a substitute for prescription opioids to treat chronic pain.

DPA has also called for the hiring of more Spanish-speaking staff in front-line and harm reduction roles, as well as the expansion of peer-to-peer models and the use of substance treatment liaisons who can facilitate warm hand-offs.

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