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Does the heroin epidemic impact minority communities differently?

Does the heroin epidemic impact minority communities differently?

03-20 | CDAH Team

A heroin epidemic is sweeping across the U.S. In its 2016 World Drug Report, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) mentions that consumption of heroin in the U.S. increased by 145 percent during the period 2007 and 2014. Although the impact has been most pronounced on whites, some minority communities have been equally affected.

Most of the focus of studies, discussion and treatment have been on the white population: middle-class users living in suburban areas that converted to heroin from prescription painkillers. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2010 to 2014, heroin overdose death rates increased by 26 percent and have more than tripled since 2010. The highest death rate for heroin has been observed in non-Hispanic whites affecting men more than women.

Distinct factors characterize heroin use/addiction among different minority communities

According to a report published in the journal Frontline, members of the African-American community do not transition to heroin from prescription opioids. Studies have shown that the likelihood of opioid medications being prescribed to blacks is low, even in the case of children. A possible reason for this is that blacks living in low-income areas find it difficult to procure opioid medication from neighborhood drug stores. In addition, many African-Americans and Latinos have been initiated to heroin through friends or family and many users get a first taste of the drug through casual acquaintances on the street.

Among all communities, Latinos have shown the lowest increase in heroin overdose deaths, possibly due to the fact that the population is nationally diverse and resides in both urban and non-urban areas. This makes it difficult to identify a single trend. The stigma associated with treatment prevents many Latinos from seeking professional help. Even when they opt for treatment, language and cultural issues come in the way.

The increase in heroin overdose deaths is second highest in the case of Native Americans, compared to all minority groups. People from the community, fearing reprisal, miss out on reporting cases of overdose among their friends and family. Native Americans also do not have access to naloxone, a drug used to block the effects of opioids, particularly in cases of overdose.

Large-scale confinement may not solve drug abuse problem

For long, incarceration has been used as a means of controlling the widespread abuse of drugs. This has impacted people in negative ways due to loss of jobs and housing, and ostracism from the society. Communities most impacted by incarceration are African-Americans and Latinos, who are at a greater likelihood to get arrested and put behind bars for drug offenses.

Some U.S. states are leading the way in doing away with such a system. A program known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) has been created in Seattle. Under this program, the police can refer drug users to case workers instead of arresting them for smaller offenses. The effectiveness of this program was demonstrated by the University of Washington in an analysis done in 2015 – it was found that only 36 percent of enrolled individuals were detained after they signed up for the program, against 59 percent in a control group. The likelihood of LEAD participants facing a felony charge was also lower. Other U.S. states are also contemplating the adoption of LEAD in treating opioid overdose cases among minority communities. Although advocates are favoring these positive measures, they remain concerned that drug problems in minority communities do not receive the same level of attention and resources as is the case among white communities.

Timely intervention is the need of the hour

Addiction to any drug is dangerous – it can have serious implications if intervention is not timely. If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction to heroin or other substances, it is imperative to seek professional help. The Colorado Drug Addiction Helpline can give you more information about the best facilities in addiction treatment in Colorado for a stable recovery. You can call our 24/7 helpline number 866-218-7546 or chat online with our experts for more information about drug addiction treatment centers in Colorado.


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